Peter LeViness, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, wrote in an email on Sunday that 718 students had responded to the UR Campus Climate survey on Sexual Violence and Bystander Intervention, a study that will give University of Richmond the most detailed look at the sexual assault environment on campus ever.
The Campus Climate Survey is Richmond’s most comprehensive investigation into sexual culture on campus to date. It probes into both the respondents' personal sexual experiences while at Richmond, and the likelihood that they would intervene as a third-party witness to unwanted sexual behavior.
The idea for the survey began after Richmond received a combined $500,000 federal grant with Virginia Commonwealth University to help educate and combat sexual assault last spring. LeViness, Westhampton College Dean Juliette Landphair and Lisa Miles, associate director of Common Ground, make up Richmond’s contributors to the assessment team within the grant. Along with six or seven coordinators at VCU, the group discussed the importance of gathering more accurate information about sexual assault and bystander awareness on both campuses.
“We are trying to see people’s willingness to access resources,” LeViness said. “If you’ve suffered some kind of sexual violence and didn’t seek help, help us understand why, because obviously that would be a big concern if there are people suffering in silence and see there is a barrier to coming forward.”
Beyond Richmond, the survey could be used to inform a pilot survey being developed at Rutgers University. White House officials have tasked Rutgers with developing a pilot campus climate survey, making the New Brunswick campus the cornerstone of the Obama administration’s analysis of sexual assault on college campuses.
When Richmond and VCU officials heard about Rutgers' pilot survey project, they reached out to Sarah McMahon, who is spearheading the survey development in New Brunswick, LeViness said. The Richmond and VCU assessment team wanted to confirm that it should proceed with developing its own climate survey before the pilot survey had been completed.
“Sarah said, ‘Oh yeah, that would be great,’” LeViness said. “‘Your survey is great, go ahead with it, you don’t have to wait for us to do our work. And anything you all find out, in terms of the process of doing these surveys, would help inform the work [I’m] doing for the White House in coming up with a model for the campus climate survey for other colleges to use.’”
While LeViness hopes the Campus Climate Survey will provide more accurate information to university administrators and Title IX coordinators, he said it has not been decided when the results of the survey will be made public. The results will first be analyzed and used to develop strategies for combating sexual assault at Richmond, but there is concern over how the results could effect Richmond’s reputation in the public eye.
“It’s definitely going to be used to inform programs and services internal to UR, because that’s going to be one of the most valuable features of it,” LeViness said. “I think the concern is more, ‘do we share this outside of UR, and if so, how and when?’ If we’re the first ones publishing these numbers then people can use it in a negative way against our university.”
That negative use of the information could manifest in basic public perception or in other schools using the data as a comparative point, LeViness said. Since most other universities do not have data this precise, Richmond’s survey could be used by competitive schools to suggest that Richmond is dealing with a bigger sexual assault problem than its institution.
The significance of Richmond’s Campus Climate survey is only amplified by the national attention garnered by the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Richmond is one of 76 universities across the country currently being investigated for sexual assault by the White House Office for Civil Rights. Title IX coordinator Kerry Fankhauser has been working to provide those investigators looking into Richmond’s case with information, and estimated that the investigation could take years to finish. The investigators have not yet revealed which specific case they are looking into at Richmond.
Additionally, only three days before LeViness updated the student population with the 718 respondent figure, the University Police Department issued a timely warning that a sexual assault had been reported on the night of Sept. 28 in Marsh Hall.
The timely warning was the first sexual assault report the university police released this semester, but since Aug. 26, 2014, seven additional sexual misconduct cases have been reported to Title IX coordinators, Fankhauser said.
The disparity between timely warnings and Title IX reports is a product of the general Title IX policy. If a student reports a sexual misconduct case to Title IX, those university coordinators conduct their own internal investigation. Should the student report directly to the university police, however, the police will issue a timely warning and inform the Title IX office.
This policy aims to encourage the “victim-based approach,” in which a victim reporting a case determines the trajectory of the impending investigation. If a victim does not wish to proceed with charges, or doesn’t provide the name of the perpetrator, then the investigation cannot proceed. The idea is for victims who do not want their case investigated to still feel comfortable accessing the other resources the university can provide, such as counseling, health care and switching classes or living accommodations.
National statistics indicate that 20 to 25 percent of women will be victims of sexual assault while attending college, but the Campus Climate Survey aims to cultivate a precise analysis of the prevalence of sexual assault here at Richmond. LeViness said he had hoped as many students as possible would respond to the survey, but he thought 800-1,000 respondents would be a sufficient sample size.
Contact staff writer Clay Helms at email@example.com