Survey Examines Emory’s Response to Sexual Assault

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Just a few hours after the Division of Campus Life and the Office of the Provost released a survey on Tuesday, March 31 on the University’s sexual misconduct policy and sexual assault prevention, more than 600 students had already completed it, according to Carolyn Livingston, senior associate vice president of Campus Life and Title IX Coordinator for Students. As of Monday evening, April 6, Livingston said that 1,109 students have taken the survey.

This survey is the first of its kind at Emory and is part of an initiative by the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs and the Division of Campus Life, according to Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair. Nair explained that this survey is not in response to changes in policy or any new issues with sexual assault at Emory University.

“Simply put, we want to better understand the thoughts and perceptions our students have about these critical issues on our campus,” Nair wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Our goal is to be a prominent resource on violence prevention, advocacy and response.” Nair said that he wanted to know student views of Emory’s sexual misconduct policy, assault prevention programs and response initiatives.

Last year, Emory was included in a list of 55 U.S. colleges released by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights that are under federal review for the handling of sexual violence allegations. Last year the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault also released a report detailing recommendations for dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. It recommended that universities conduct a “campus climate” survey to understand the extent of the issue on its campus. The Association of American Universities worked with the White House task force to develop a survey for member schools, such as Emory, to use. According to Livingston, Emory opted out of using that survey because the administration wanted a survey tailored to the Emory community.

Last summer, the Sexual Violence Prevention Visioning Task Force, a committee that includes Emory faculty, staff and students as well as scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), worked together to use a public health approach to implement violence prevention, according to Ryan Sutherland, a former task force intern and College junior. He explained that following the White House report, Nair and Claire Sterk, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, charged the task force with creating subcommittees such as the Campus Climate Survey Committee to create the survey. Other subcommittees focused on program prevention and evaluation, Title IX collaboration and academic and community engagement.

Livingston and Rollins School of Public Health Ph.D candidate Kathleen Krause chaired the Campus Climate Survey Committee, which included faculty, staff and both undergraduate and graduate public health students. They designed the survey to address any experience falling under the realm of sexual misconduct, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking. The committee wanted a comprehensive review of every prevention effort on campus and student experiences. Some areas of review include awareness and utility of resources the University offers, according to Livingston.

“We are asking about being a bystander, if they’ve felt uncomfortable saying something in a bystander situation,” Livingston said. “We are asking if students have been in situations where they or their friends have intervened. If students have reported sexual violence, then what was their perception of their ability to report and if it was helpful.”

A parallel survey on sexual violence prevention will also be sent out to faculty and staff, according to Livingston. They will be asked similar questions tailored for a survey responder who may handle situations in which a student reports he or she has been sexually harassed. The committee wants to address the actions faculty and staff should take in such situations, Livingston said.

Nair wrote that he and the task force want to be aware of student perceptions of these topics so that they can continue to develop relevant policies and programs that will resonate with the community in both practice and spirit. The survey will help the task force understand the use of sexual assault prevention resources they already provide, how effective they are and what further prevention strategies to take, according to Nair and Livingston. Following the White House report, the task force published its own report on recommendations for sexual assault prevention last October. It gave recommendations for existing programs and resources, such as training for Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) and steps to address bystander discomfort for matriculating students, according to Sutherland. For the first time this year, the task force also implemented Haven, an online education module on sexual assault that all incoming students are required to take.

“We are making history,” Sutherland said. “Being able to add my voice to this discourse and participate in this evolving movement alongside survivors and advocates has been incredibly rewarding — we are rewriting policy and creating visible reforms…”

College junior Elyse Lee said she took the survey immediately after it was released March 31. She said that though she is not a survivor of sexual assault, she took the survey because she cares deeply about the issue. However, she is not sure how receptive other students will be towards the survey.

“They may take it and not finish it because some questions could make you feel uncomfortable,” Lee said. “If you were sexually assaulted, this survey is going to make you reflect on your negative experiences so some students could get to that point and just not finish it.”

The survey includes multiple warnings that survey questions may cause respondents to feel triggered or upset. The survey writers stress multiple times throughout the survey that respondents can skip questions and sections that they feel uncomfortable answering and give a list of resources to contact if they are feeling upset. The survey also provided definitions of forced touching of a sexual nature, oral sex, sexual intercourse, anal sex, sexual penetration with a finger or object and forced penetration prior to asking questions regarding any of those.

College sophomore Sammy Karon thought the trigger warnings were necessary for the survey. Karon said that when asking people to reflect back on and translate memories into their own language, trigger warnings are needed.

“You never know how some people have come to terms with what’s happened,​“ Karon said. “They might not call it sexual assault, but you’re asking them to consider using that language.”

She said that the survey writers do acknowledge that they are asking respondents to step out of their comfort zone by reminding them that they can stop at any time. However if they can continue, this is the information they would like to know.

The survey also touched on personal beliefs regarding sexual assault, preparedness as the friend of a survivor and general use of derogatory language toward any sex.

College junior Rifat Mursalin said he was surprised by the questions on derogatory and sexist references to males, females and transgender while taking the survey.

“I was struck by how prevalent those instances have been in my Emory career,” Mursalin said. “I was taken aback and realized, wow, this actually happens a lot, and we don’t stop and think about that.”

— By Sarah Husain