Author: Charlotte Umanoff
The Title IX Office and Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning (IRAP) released an analysis of the results of the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) Sexual Assault Climate Survey at a town hall meeting Thursday.
Most prominently, the analysis contains comparison data from 54 peer institutions.
According to IRAP, Occidental’s survey yielded a response rate of 31 percent of the student body as opposed to an average of 19 percent for the other schools.
Occidental students reported a greater number of sexual assaults than comparison schools, with 8.1 percent of respondents at Occidental having experienced sexual assault, in comparison to 7.5 percent at other small schools.
The prevalence of unwanted sexual contact was also higher than at other schools: 63 percent of respondents reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact verbally (compared to 55 percent at other schools), 26 percent nonverbally (compared to 24 percent) and 52 percent in the form of brief physical contact (compared to 40 percent).
One limitation of the survey addressed by Title IX Coordinator Ruth Jones and Teresa Kaldor, director of IRAP, is the difficulty in generalizing the results to the whole student body, since the demographics of the students who responded are not representative of the entire college.
For example, out of 627 total responses, 416 were from female students and 211 were from male students. IRAP did not present the findings on non-binary students’ responses, though Kaldor said that information is available.
Occidental was one of the only participant schools to be this forthcoming about their results, according to Kaldor. One reason for the transparency, Jones said, is that it creates more opportunities to reinforce to students the school’s objective of ending sexual violence.
“We solve sexual violence as a community,” Jones said. “We have to have shared information so that [we are] all trying to solve this. It’s an opportunity to remind people that this is not solved. This is an ongoing commitment that we all have to have.”
The initial results of the survey indicated low levels of trust in campus officials in matters pertaining to sexual assault, lower than at comparison schools. While 67 percent of respondents at other schools believe that campus officials will “do a good job protecting students from harm,” only 47 percent of Occidental respondents share this belief. Fifty-four percent of respondents at other schools think their institutions will “handle incidents in a fair and responsible manner,” in comparison to 28 percent of Occidental respondents.
Roz Jones (sophomore), who attended the presentation, was discouraged by this information.
“I thought that the fact that our school in comparison to other schools was lower in percentages of trust was really disconcerting,” Roz Jones said. “If we don’t trust our school, we really don’t have any way of making the situation better … it’s just toxic to the whole environment of trying to remedy the sexual assault crisis that’s happening.”
Building trust, Ruth Jones said during the presentation, does not happen automatically.
“Trust is eroded, and then you have to build it every day,” Ruth Jones said.
Roz Jones, Ruth Jones and Kaldor all agree that generating more responses from the student body is difficult due to the sensitive nature of the topic. The hope for future years is to increase the response rate to get a clearer picture of the statistics at Occidental. However, Ruth Jones said that focusing too much on the statistics can sometimes distract from the heart of the problem.
“There’s been a lot of focus on [what] the numbers [are],” Ruth Jones said. “Do they agree with the 1 in 5 [statistic of college women who experience sexual assault]? Sometimes that’s a little disheartening, as if there’s a magic number when we should care. Any sexual assault is one too many.”
Moving forward, Ruth Jones stressed that while information and education are important for sexual assault prevention, getting students to change their behavior is the most crucial step. However, no concrete action plan was presented.
“In terms of concrete actions, I feel like there were some big holes,” Roz Jones said.
The new information is available on the Office of Institutional Research webpage and was emailed to the student body Friday morning.
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