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Amid the national uproar over #MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment, BU has announced that it will join 32 other universities in asking students about sexual misconduct and assault on campus.
The online survey will be conducted during spring semester 2019 by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and is expected to be among the largest such sampling ever, with participating universities having just under one million undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. It will probe misconduct by all members of a university community—faculty, students, and staff.
The AAU and Boston University did separate sexual misconduct surveys in 2014. Besides BU, 31 other AAU members and one nonmember (Georgetown) will participate in the upcoming survey.
The University decided not to do its own survey this time, because “having access to directly comparative data with our AAU peers will be worthwhile,” says Jean Morrison, University provost. “It will give us recent and updated insight into the issues that people in the BU community are feeling around sexual assault. It’s important that we continue to seek information about the sense of the community around this issue.”
The AAU says its survey will ask questions about the characteristics and frequency of assault and misconduct on campus.
“We’ll send out a link so that people can do the survey online,” says Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), BU associate provost and dean of students. That will be done in February 2019, he says.
Given the current attention to sexual assault and misconduct, “it is fantastic that students in the country, and society, raise this issue,” Elmore says. The survey will help “to give us a sense of the direction we might be heading as a community.”
Mary Sue Coleman, president of the AAU, says the survey’s goal is student safety: “AAU universities are committed to protecting students, and we believe this survey will contribute to the growing body of research on this topic to better inform campus policies and procedures.”
While the survey will ask sensitive questions, the AAU will include a consent statement for respondents and a trigger warning that some questions will be of an explicit nature. The survey also will include links to resources, both on campus and off, for students upset by any questions.
Experts on several AAU member campuses suggested at least four-year intervals between surveys to allow schools ample time to analyze the data and address problems revealed by the survey, the AAU says.
The organization will release aggregate results of participants’ surveys, while leaving it up to individual schools to decide whether to release their own results. BU did release its data in 2014 and will do so again, Elmore says.
The University’s first survey, in 2015, found that while 90 percent of Terrier respondents felt safe on campus, almost 25 percent of female students said they had been sexually assaulted in some form as students. About 75 percent of respondents said they believed University administrators care about their welfare.
That first survey informed the programming at the University’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center. It also helped publicize University measures to prevent abuse and misconduct and to address it when it happens.
Among those measures are a College of Arts & Sciences elective for first-year students on healthy consent and communication; support groups, including for victims of assault and students who’ve been in an abusive relationship; weekly reviews of assault cases by the University’s Title IX coordinator (the gender discrimination watchdog), Judicial Affairs, and the Dean of Students office; and the use of Advocate, a judicial database software tool that collects student conduct statistics and data from the annual Clery report of campus crimes, for sharing among BU offices.
Most universities in the 62-member AAU that are not participating in the spring 2019 survey either are doing their own survey or are part of a state university system that is conducting surveys, according to the AAU. The AAU survey will be conducted and analyzed by Westat, a Maryland-based social service research firm that services federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and foundations.