Campus Sexual Assault Policies Not Reaching All Students

Campus Sexual Assault Policies Not Reaching All Students

Sarah Hurtado & Allison BrckaLorenz — Each year, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) appends a small number of experimental item sets focused on topical areas of interest. In 2016, one of these item sets concentrated on students’ perceptions of campus climate and awareness of crisis, anti-discrimination, and sexual assault policies. An initial study, which was presented at the 2017 ACPA conference, focused on the questions related to sexual assault policies and procedures in an effort to predict which students were most likely to disagree with these items. In general, senior students and gender variant students[1] (figure 1) were more likely to disagree that their institution provided them with information regarding sexual assault, that sexual assault reporting policies and procedures are clear, and that there are adequate resources and support for those who experienced sexual assault. Conversely, Black or African American students, men and straight students were less likely to disagree (figure 1).

Figure 1

Interestingly, there were inconsistent findings for the three agreement questions listed above. For example, when looking at students’ perceptions that their institution provided information regarding sexual assault, we found transfer students were more likely to disagree and students living on campus were less likely to disagree. For whether students perceived sexual assault reporting policies and procedures as clear, STEM majors and full-time students were more likely to disagree and athletes were less likely to disagree. Meanwhile, when looking if students agreed that their institution provided adequate support for sexual assault survivors, White students and first-generation students were less likely to disagree.

The study also examined the relationship between the three items related to policies, procedures, and support and students’ perceptions of how their institution handles incidents of sexual assault. Students who were more likely to disagree to the other climate questions were more likely to perceive their institution as handling sexual assault issues poorly. More specifically, seniors, gender variant students (figure 2), full-time enrolled students, and students who prefer not to respond to race/ethnicity believed their institution deals poorly with sexual assault incidents. However, Black or African American students, White students, men (figure 2), transfer students, and straight students perceive their institution deals well with these incidents.

Figure 2

Given the above findings, institutions should consider new ways to get information about sexual assault policies, procedures and resources to students who they may not be reaching. For example, senior students were consistently more likely to disagree they understood their institution’s sexual assault policies, which may be a result of focusing efforts on first-year orientation and programming. Increasing students’ understanding of institutional efforts related to sexual assault is important, because they may influence a student’s decision to report an incident or seek resources and support. Increasing reporting gives institutions greater insight into the prevalence of this issue on their campuses and better positions them to implement efforts to eliminate it.

[1] Note: Gender variant students are those students who responded with Another gender identity on the gender demographic item.