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February 5, 2015

Pitt to participate in AAU sexual assault survey

Pitt is among 28 universities that will participate in the Association of American Universities (AAU) sexual assault climate survey this spring.

The survey will be available to all undergraduate, graduate and professional students beginning in April. Combined, the participating institutions encompass 800,000 students, so the survey is expected to be one of the largest ever on the subject of sexual assault.

A team of experts from universities and the research firm Westat is developing the survey, based on an instrument developed by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.

The team includes researchers, practitioners and other professionals with direct academic and/or practical experience in survey research, sexual assault, gender issues, student affairs or other related matters. It is chaired by Sandra Martin of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC). Martin is a faculty member and associate chair for research in UNC’s Department of Maternal and Child Health and associate dean for research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

According to the AAU, the survey will document the frequency and characteristics of campus sexual assault and sexual harassment, and assess campus climate in a way that allows for comparability of data across institutions and that protects the confidentiality of respondents.

The same survey will be used at all participating universities except for five questions that will mention campus-specific programs to assess students’ familiarity with their campus resources, support services and reporting mechanisms.

AAU said it will publicly report aggregate results from across the participating AAU campuses. Westat will provide each institution with its own data, and each will decide whether and how to disseminate those results. AAU will encourage institutions to release their institutional data.

In a prepared release, AAU President Hunter Rawlings stated: “Our primary purpose in conducting this survey is to help our institutions gain a better understanding of this complex problem on their own campuses as well as nationally.

“Our first priority, and theirs, is to ensure that students not only are safe but feel safe. Universities will be using their data to inform their own policies and practices regarding sexual assault. We also hope the survey will help policymakers gain a better understanding of the problem, and that it will make a significant contribution to the growing body of research on sexual assault.”

Rawlings added: “We are pleased that we will be able to conduct a climate survey involving so many universities and students from every region of the country. We have an excellent cross-section of our institutions — about half public and half private, rural and urban, with a range of sizes.”

Other AAU universities participating in the survey are: Brown; California Institute of Technology; Case Western Reserve; Columbia; Cornell; Harvard; Iowa State; Michigan State; Ohio State; Purdue; Texas A&M; University of Arizona; University of Colorado-Boulder; University of Florida; University of Michigan; University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; University of Missouri-Columbia; UNC; University of Oregon; Penn; University of Southern California; University of Texas-Austin; University of Virginia; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale.

Dartmouth, a member of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, whose non-AAU members were invited to join the survey, will participate as well.

According to the AAU, almost all the AAU universities that are not participating in the survey are carrying out their own surveys or participating in state university system surveys.

In announcing the survey, Rawlings stated: “The survey has two primary purposes. First, as our institutions consider what steps they may need to take with respect to safety, law enforcement, adjudication and other policies, we hope that this survey will provide solid information on the incidence of sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses and on attitudes on the issue among their students.

“Second, we have been deeply concerned about the possibility of Congress or the administration mandating that campuses conduct a government-developed survey. Such an initiative would likely be a one-size-fits-all survey that would provide potentially misleading data, given the extraordinary diversity of higher education in our country, and would not reliably assess the campus culture on this issue.

“We believe it is important that AAU take on the role of providing this information not only to our universities but also to policymakers and the public. We hope it will help ensure that any government policies that do emerge are cognizant of the vast diversity of American higher education.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow