Survey shows students’ thoughts on sexual assault

At the Take Back the Night event in 2015, students of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program organization share their stories and spoken word poetry. On Monday afternoon, UConn sent an email with survey results on sexual assaults on each of the university's campuses. (File Photo)

The University of Connecticut has released a telling survey chronicling the thoughts and experiences of UConn students on sexual assault.

Conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) in the fall of 2015, the survey asked 1,499 students from Storrs and each UConn regional school 47 questions regarding campus climate and sexual assault. 924 respondents were women, 555 respondents were men and 20 respondents rejected gender-identifiers. 1,137 people were surveyed from the Storrs campus. Respondents were given 10 dollars in Husky Bucks to participate.

HEDS, an independent, non-profit corporation, is “a consortium of private colleges and universities that collaboratively share, analyze and use data of all kinds,” according to its website.

HEDS used a random, stratified sample of students for the most accurate results. University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said that the survey has a 95 percent confidence with a 2.5 to three percent margin of error. UConn paid HEDS $4,349 to manage the survey.

As Dr. Sally Reis – UConn’s vice provost for academic affairs – pointed out, surveys that are completely open and not randomly selected have the tendency to highlight those disproportionately affected by what is being surveyed. Dr. Fred Wanjera, the executive director of data for UConn’s Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, said that the results of the survey were accurate and representative of a diverse student population.

UConn administrators and representatives met with media outlets, including The Daily Campus, to discuss the findings of the survey and what it means going forward before the student body received an email from President Susan Herbst’s office concerning the survey at 1:10 p.m. today. Those present included Reis, Wanjera, Reitz, UConn’s Title IX coordinator Elizabeth Conklin, vice president of student affairs Michael Gilbert and the assistant vice president of student affairs, Eleanor Daugherty.

“The survey asked students about their views on our campus climate generally and around sexual assault, their perceptions of how UConn responds to concerns regarding sexual assault and whether and how often they have experienced unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault since arriving at UConn,” Herbst’s email read.

In October of 2015, a report found that 85 rapes had been recorded at UConn for the 2014-2015 academic year. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating UConn for a Title IX complaint filed in 2015.

The survey said that 66 percent of students “feel valued in the classroom/learning environment,” and 82 percent of students “feel safe on this campus.” A question asking about a “positive and supportive campus climate” found that 80 percent of students believe the staff contributes to such an environment, 78 percent of students think faculty do so, 75 percent of students said students do and 65 percent of students asked judged administrators to contribute to a positive, supportive campus climate.

65 percent of students said that “if a crisis happened here” they were “confident campus officials would handle it well,” 59 percent of students said that they thought “campus officials respond quickly in difficult situations” and 61 percent of students said “campus officials handle incidents in a fair and responsible manner.”

Two questions asked what students thought about the likelihood of a sexual assault occurring, with 42 percent of students saying they thought the number of sexual assaults occurring at the university was “low,” 30 percent of respondents disagreeing. 46 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe themselves at risk of being sexually assaulted, while 37 percent disagreed and did consider themselves at risk. 57 percent of those surveyed said they thought students “would intervene if they witnessed a sexual assault.” 63 percent of respondents agreed when asked if campus officials “would take action against the offender(s).”

77 percent of those surveyed said they have received information/education from the university about “what sexual assault is and how to recognize it.” 56 percent said they have received information/education from the university about “how to report an incident of sexual assault” as well as “the university’s confidential resources for sexual assault.” 35 percent of students said they had received information/education from the university about “the procedures for investigating a sexual assault” while 46 percent said they hadn’t.

There was some concern that only 16 percent of respondents remembered “almost all, or all” of the “information/education from the university about sexual assault.”

“Many of our students haven’t gone through this type of workshop in years,” Gilbert said.

This is why graduate students were required to take an online program before applying for classes this year, and why pilot programs are being tested for sophomore and junior undergraduates to do the same beginning in the spring of next year, Gilbert said, calling the prospective program a “booster shot” for sexual education. There are a host of programs run all year by groups like the Violence Against Women Prevention Program (VAWPP), but currently, the only mandated educational efforts geared toward sexual assault happen as freshmen during orientation or First Year Experience classes.

The survey also got into catcalling, with 20 percent of respondents saying they had experienced it “sometimes.”

The majority of sexual assaults, according to the survey, occur on campus, so numbers may be skewed for regional campuses like Waterbury, where many students commute. Ultimately, 83 of those surveyed said they had been sexually assaulted, 75 of whom were female, eight of whom were male. The Storrs campus accounted for 74 of these attacks, seven men and 67 women out of the 1,137 Storrs respondents. A breakdown of those 1,137 students shows that 685 female students took the survey and 438 male students took the survey, which accounts for an approximately 10 percent report rate among females at Storrs and one percent report rate among males at Storrs.

According to students who had been attacked, 68 percent involved “the other people drinking alcohol.” Additionally, out of the 33 cases where students said there were bystanders, 11 intervened.

Affected students were the most likely to go to a close friend to tell about the sexual assault (30 percent). Notably, seven percent went to no one, and about 10 percent utilized university services. 4.5 percent went to either university or state police with information, and, specifically on the Storrs campus, there were two reports to UConn police and five reports to state police, overall. Out of the 14 that refrained from telling anyone, 12 percent said it was because they wanted to deal with it on their own, ten percent said it was because they were ashamed or embarrassed and another ten percent said it was because they “didn’t want others to worry about me.”

For Conklin, there are positive and negative conclusions to be drawn from the survey.

“We’ve been working for a long time on this campus to better understand and prevent instances of sexual violence…certainly there is room to grow,” Conklin said. When I think about the issues at UConn, I think about the questions of prevention and awareness.”

With reports of rape up across the nation and at UConn, is this because of increased incidents or more robust reporting?

More importantly, the school has to do something with this information. I’d like to see…a greater effort at emphasizing healthy sexual relationships and domestic violence awareness. I read somewhere that ‘sexual assault should not be a part of the college experience,’ and that’s the only real way I can put it.
— Banu Bayraktar, former ex-oficio USG senator

“We don’t know that increased reporting means increased incidents. We know that increased reporting means increased reporting…we see increased reporting as a sign that awareness is being raised,” Conklin said.  

Banu Bayraktar, a sixth-semester geology major and former ex-officio Undergaduate Student Government (USG) senator representing the Women’s Center, offered her thoughts on the survey and the university’s next move.

“I think that it’s a good thing that the university is conducting surveys like this where they can start to begin to get a grasp of how the pressing issue of sexual assault is affecting UConn students,” Bayraktar said. “More importantly, the school has to do something with this information. I’d like to see…a greater effort at emphasizing healthy sexual relationships and domestic violence awareness. I read somewhere that ‘sexual assault should not be a part of the college experience,’ and that’s the only real way I can put it.”

Rishita Jani, a sixth-semester finance major and director of programs for USG, applauded UConn’s research efforts while suggesting areas of focus for the future.

“Having an internship in the Office of Diversity and Equity Office, I see on a day-to-day basis the amount of effort that is being put into this cause,” Jani said. “In my opinion, the biggest efforts now have to be placed on bystander intervention. Progress on this initiative will help the percentages regarding ‘fellow students intervening during, or providing support after, a problematic encounter’ to increase as well in coming years. The survey is in no way unsatisfactory, but rather it is affirmative and encouraging. It shows that the work that is being done by the university is showing promising results and we must continue to push towards a safer, more inviting and welcoming school for all.”

To see the full results of the survey, go to http://titleix.uconn.edu/title-ix-at-uconn/uconn-reports-and-statistics/.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu