States should require the State Department of Education to develop a comprehensive, standardized campus climate survey for schools to administer every two years.
A climate survey generates school-specific data on the nature and prevalence of gender-based violence within a school community, as well as data on the attitudes and perceptions about gender-based violence among different student groups. Despite these benefits, many schools have declined to conduct such a survey, leaving students and their parents with little information about how their institution handles gender-based violence or its prevalence on campus. While some individual colleges and trade associations have developed survey instruments to tackle this issue, without standardization, these tools may omit critical questions, bias responses, or make it difficult to compare sexual violence prevalence and response across institutions.
Survey Best Practices
In order to implement this recommendation, a state agency should create a standardized survey instrument modeled after survey tools developed by the federal government and best practices from peer-reviewed research about measuring sexual violence and harassment. The survey should be fair and unbiased, scientifically valid and reliable, and meet the highest standards of survey research. Questions should address topics that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The incidence and prevalence of sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking;
- Whether the perpetrator was a student and other contextual factors, such as whether force, incapacitation, or coercion was involved;
- Whether students know about institutional policies and procedures, such as the identity of the Title IX Coordinator, the location of university resources, and definitions of sexual misconduct;
- If survivors reported gender-based harassment violence, to whom they reported, and what response the survivor may have received;
- The cost and/or impact of violence on survivors, such as costs associated with counseling, medical services, or housing changes, as well as any disabilities that may have resulted from experiencing gender-based violence or harassment;
- Community attitudes toward gender-based violence and harassment, including individuals’ willingness to intervene as a bystander;
- Community members’ perception of campus safety and confidence in the institution’s ability to appropriately address gender-based violence and harassment.
The survey should not require or encourage individuals to provide personally identifiable information. Given the sensitive nature of the survey, questions should use trauma-informed language (language written with an understanding of trauma and its potential impacts on students taking the survey) to prevent retraumatization and effectively measure experiences with sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
In order to accurately measure prevalence, schools should administer surveys online for all students, including individuals who are currently on leave, studying abroad, or have recently graduated from campus. These climate surveys should be administered once every two years to measure changes in culture.
Further, both the state agency and the individual institutions should be required to publicly release the results of the surveys on their websites within six months of completion, with the exception of any information which could reasonably identify an individual. Information should be directly available from the homepage of the institution’s website to increase its accessibility for students and their families.
Survivors and accused individuals alike have argued that school processes have led to unfair investigations and disciplinary processes. Comprehensive data on disciplinary outcomes would give students, parents, and administrators the tools they need to accurately assess the fairness of existing practices and improve policy.
Schools’ lack of transparency is particularly concerning given potential bias against individuals from marginalized communities. For example, survivors of color have historically had their claims of violence taken less seriously than white survivors, and accused men of color have received harsher sanctions than white men accused of similar offenses.
Schools, therefore, should gather and publish anonymized, aggregate, and non-identifying data on an annual basis regarding reports of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Schools should also publish the outcomes of disciplinary processes, including reports that are resolved informally.
Data should include:
- The number of reported instances of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, including domestic and dating violence and stalking;
- The type of process used to resolve each report (i.e., informal resolution or formal investigation), including alternative resolutions such as complainants or respondents leaving campus to end the process prior to a resolution;
- The number of investigations opened;
- The number of cases in which accommodations were requested, granted, modified, and denied;
- Where not identifying (as determined by a state agency through regulation), the number of students who experienced any of the following after reporting gender violence:
- Withdrawal from a class;
- Placement on academic probation;
- Voluntary or medical leave from school;
- Withdrawal from school;
- The number of respondents who were found responsible, the sanctions imposed, and the reasons given for the decision;
- The number of respondents who were found not responsible and the reasons given for the decision;
- The number of cases in which any changes were made to the determinations or sanctions as a result of an appeal and reasoning;
- The length of each case, from the time of the initial report to the final resolution.