AAU survey will come to campus in spring

by Lauren Budd | 1/27/15 8:33pm

A campus-wide sexual assault climate survey will be implemented for the first time this spring term and will continue to be conducted on a recurring basis, campus Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist said.

The Association of American Universities, an organization representing top universities, organizes the survey, which will be distributed at 28 college campuses in the spring, reaching close to 900,000 students, AAU vice president of public affairs Barry Toiv said. He said that the schools represented an “excellent cross-section” of American higher education. The institutions surveyed are of varying sizes, both rural and urban and public and private institutions.

“Universities will see not only their own results, but also the cumulative results for the many institutions participating,” Toiv said.

He said the aggregate data published following the survey will help institutions formulate policies, inform policymakers and contribute to research in the field. He noted that the decision to release data comes down to each individual institution.

All Dartmouth students, including graduate students, will complete the survey, Lindkvist said. Every Ivy League institution except Princeton University will participate in the survey, Toiv said.The survey firm Westat provides schools with their institutional data, and they can then decide if they want to disclose that information, Toiv said.

The survey will allow the College to further develop intervention and education efforts. Using an external vendor helps ensure responders’ anonymity, Lindkvist said.

“I want to continue to see us maintain an environment where our community members feel safe, secure and respected,” Lindkvist said. “It is essential in assessing the work we have been doing and moving forward.”

She noted that the survey will allow the College to compare results with other participating institutions.

As a campus under a Title IX federal investigation for sexual assault policy violations, the College is required to conduct such a climate survey, Lindkvist said.

The AAU survey, however, has been criticized by several experts, Susy Struble ’93, founder of Dartmouth Change and co-founder of Alumni for Campus Safety and Accountability, said.

For the past 20 year, experts have supported this type of survey, Struble said, but she noted that there are worrisome elements of the AAU survey, including concerns about cost and the apparent lack of transparency. The survey costs around $85,000 per school and does not require each institution to publish their data, she noted, even though an essential part of making such a survey effective is to compare data from every school involved.

“Whatever Dartmouth does, it needs to be immediately published and made transparent,” Struble said.

Linkdvist said that Dartmouth already committed to publishing its results. “We intend to make that data public to the Dartmouth community and beyond,” Lindkvist said.

Surveys can be a valuable tool if used correctly to provide insight into the incidence sexual assault and factors that drive assaults on campus, as well as the effectiveness of college prevention programs, Struble said.

Struble said she thinks the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative is a waste because it has not produced any information.“We have no data to know if it worked or not and we will not know unless the College shares it,” she said.

She said that Rutgers University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used their own surveys and made the information public, closely following the guidelines set out by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. She said that the College should have followed these guidelines instead of using the AAU survey, which determined its own criteria.

Linkdvist said that AAU survey did use the White House Task Force report to generate questions.

Struble said it would have been advantageous for Dartmouth to have collaborated with the University of New Hampshire given its proximity and the fact that it does its own institutional research on sexual assault. She said that UNH is one of a few universities in the country that designs, conducts and analyzes its own sexual assault research.

“There are some fabulous experts in our backyard, personally I would have been comfortable if we had just worked with [the University of New Hampshire],” Struble said.

She said that another effective alternative would have been for Dartmouth to create its own survey.

“We have our own office of institutional research, and we are an institute of higher education,” Struble said. “I would have thought we would have had our own resources to put towards this project if it had any importance to us.”

Mark Houlemarde, who provides sexual assault outreach services at Indiana University at Bloomington, echoed these concerns but noted that the survey has the potential to “drive changes.” He said that concerns involve cost, transparency and that the survey inadequately addresses individual community concerns by implementing a “one size fits all” approach.

The cost of the survey allocates $68,000 to the survey firm to work directly with the institution to obtain and analyze the data, with the remaining $17,000 used to develop and implement the survey, Houlemarde said.

He said that Indiana University uses an internal survey, which reduces costs and allows the institution to tailor its questions to their individual communities.

He noted that campus surveys in general can be ineffective if they focus too much on sheer rates of assault rather than on ways to prevent sexual assault. Houlemarde said that additional numbers “tell us what we already know” — sexual assault is an issue on many campuses.

“We know that sexual assault is happening on campuses from the stories shared by survivors for many years and we know that sex in the [United States] is sometimes something which isn’t talked about in the way that it ought to be talked about,” he said.

Two student representatives from Dartmouth’s Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault expressed optimism about the implications of the survey.

“I am a huge advocate of external climate surveys because I think they are able to step back from the College and see all the issues we have,” outreach and communications chair Shanet Hinds ’16 said.

Hinds said that the survey will be adjusted for Dartmouth’s individual concerns, with five Dartmouth-specific questions. Hinds said that SPCSA’s first recommendation to the College was that they release their data, which administrators have committed to do. She said that the survey network allows Dartmouth to compare its data with other schools.

“It’s important for students to know what the data looks like,” Hinds said.

SPCSA president Victoria Nevel ’16 said that the survey will provide valuable insight into what Dartmouth is doing right and where it can improve.

“It doesn’t make sense to throw money at things without knowing what’s happening on this campus, and I don’t know if we can know what’s happening and what solutions there are without knowing what the problems exactly are first, which is why the survey is really important,” Nevel said.