News feature

Reflecting on MIT’s third annual Title IX report

Most reported misconduct involves undergrads, most reported harassment involves faculty or staff

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“Official statements matter — for good or ill,” wrote President Rafael Reif last week in an email to the MIT community reminding us about MIT’s policies regarding harassment. The release of the Title IX reports each year shows MIT’s commitment to both reducing gender-based violence and increasing transparency.

Taking a deeper look into the reported data, including the most recent Title IX report released last month, with respect to MIT and peer institutions’ initiatives, highlights the impact of some of MIT’s efforts and what we can do going forward.

From the three years of data, most cases of sexual misconduct, which include sexual assault, involve undergraduates, with non-affiliates making up the second largest group. Over half of sexual harassment reports were based on complaints about faculty/staff. When formal investigations have found a student responsible, MIT responds most severely to students who are found responsible for non-consensual sexual penetration, with four out of five students expelled, based on the most recent report. MIT does not report aggregate data about investigation outcomes involving faculty/staff, despite the fact that peer institutions report it and that a consensus report of The National Academies recommends it.

Historical increases in data collection

This decade, MIT has significantly increased efforts to gather data and improve our community’s attitudes towards gender-based bias and violence. Data collected since 2012 has been included in tracking of gender-based policy violations. In 2014, MIT conducted the Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault survey to gather information about attitudes and prevalence of sexual assault. The following year, MIT created a Title IX office. Every year since creation, the office has produced a Title IX report, which focuses exclusively on student cases made known to the Title IX office— thereby surpassing the minimum requirements of Title IX, a law which prohibits gender-based discrimination in higher education.

Starting last academic year, the Title IX office was given responsibility for tracking prevalence of of all other bias incidents involving students and student groups, like religion, national origin, race, age, etc., and was renamed Title IX and Bias Response (T9BR). Later that semester, President Reif directed four offices to review how MIT handles faculty and staff sexual misconduct cases. According to an email from Human Resources (HR) to The Tech, these four offices will propose updates this academic year. Next semester, MIT will administer a campus climate survey to all students to track progress made combating sexual misconduct in the five years since the first survey.

In addition to increasing reporting efforts, MIT has created numerous initiatives to improve awareness regarding gender-based violence, like dispersing informational stickers about the reporting process, implementing and improving online trainings for faculty, staff, and students, delivering in-lab sexual harassment training for the chemistry department, and forming Violence Prevention and Response, a confidential office that supports students who experience gender-based violence.

In Spring 2018, MIT required online trainings for faculty and staff, in addition to undergraduates and graduate students. In an email to The Tech, T9BR reported  that 99.7 percent of staff, 100 percent of incoming undergraduates, and 97.3 percent of incoming graduate students had completed the online trainings. Registration holds are being placed on graduate students who have not completed the training, so T9BR expects 100 percent completion soon.

Three years of Title IX data

One of the most obvious trends in the data is a more than 400 percent increase in the number of Title IX incidents reported since 2012. In an email to The Tech, T9BR attributes the increase in reports to “enhanced education and outreach.”

Title IX offices nationwide have seen an increase in reports this past year, which they partially attribute to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements increasing awareness about gender-based discrimination and improving equity in the workplace.

The T9BR office also saw an impact from the faculty and staff training on reporting data. T9BR said that the 42 percent increase in reports this year largely came from “department staff and faculty who informed Title IX about incidents students had reported to them,” indicating that the online training which started January 2018 is “effectively explaining employee reporting obligations.”

The data over the past three years also indicates an increase in reports of incidents directly involving faculty and staff, which could in part be due to increased awareness from training. The most recent report had 13 incidents where the complainant was faculty/staff, whereas the reports released in 2017 and 2016 had six and one incidents, respectively.

The data on sexual misconduct highlight the disproportionate impact it has on the undergrad community and demonstrate that cases of sexual misconduct extend beyond our individual campus.

Of cases in the past three years categorized as sexual misconduct — which includes actions such as non-consensual sexual penetration and sexual exploitation — 68 percent involved undergraduate complainants, but only 33 percent of respondents were identified as MIT undergraduates. A large fraction of respondents were not affiliated (28 percent) or were in the other/unknown category (27 percent).  Title IX defines the complainant as the person to whom a policy violation was allegedly directed towards and the respondent as the person who allegedly committed the policy violation.

The second largest complainant category for sexual misconduct were non-affiliates, with more reports than faculty, staff and graduate students combined.

For sexual harassment, which includes unwelcome sexual comments that create a hostile work or living environment, the data show a different picture. Graduate students made up 39 percent of complainants, followed by undergraduates with 25 percent. Given that there are 52 percent more graduate students at MIT than undergraduates, assuming equal likelihoods of reporting, the rates of experiencing sexual harassment are probably similar between the two groups.

The respondent in 52 percent of the sexual harassment reports was identified as faculty or staff, with the other categories between 10–15 percent. This data indicates that respondent training on reducing harassment may be more impactful if designed with faculty and staff in mind.

Reports of intimate partner violence, also called domestic violence, involved primarily undergraduates (44 percent) and graduate students (38 percent) as complainants, and approximately equal ratios of undergraduates, graduates, and non-affiliates as respondents.

54 percent of stalking reports involved a graduate student being stalked, with 34 percent of respondents being not affiliated and 29 percent being graduate students.

It is important to note that the data presented here is only the data which has been reported to the Title IX office and has systematic bias in the frequency of what is and is not reported. For example, just because there are no reports of intimate partner violence or stalking involving faculty or staff over the three-year period does not mean none of MIT’s 12,000 employees experienced either intimate partner violence nor stalking. The data just indicates that no intimate partner violence or stalking involving MIT employees was reported to the Title IX office. One way to decrease bias is to obtain higher reporting rates, which has been accomplished by the T9BR’s recent efforts.

Respondent consequences

The 2018 National Academies report “Sexual Harassment of Women,” which evaluates the impacts of sexual harassment in academia and the workforce, states, “One central, and perhaps more obvious, way to prevent sexual harassment is for academic institutions to clearly demonstrate that they do not tolerate it.” In an email to The Tech, Sarah Goodman G, Advocacy Chair of Graduate Women at MIT and former president of the GSC, wrote, “Publishing the T9BR report is an important step in demonstrating MIT's commitment to preventing gender-based violence and discrimination.” In this report, MIT releases aggregated, anonymized data about the outcomes of formal investigations involving students in its Title IX cases.

Most cases reported to Title IX do not involve a formal investigation. Of the formal investigations in the past three years, a majority of investigations are handled by Human Resources or by the MIT Police, which MIT does not provide aggregate data about. However, the data about student respondents who went through formal investigations provide insights into how MIT treats cases of gender-based violence.

The three annual reports state the outcomes of students accused of violating MIT’s Title IX policies. The reports aggregate data over multiple years to improve confidentiality.

From data in the most recent Title IX report, five of the 10 formal investigations related to non-consensual sexual penetration described in this year’s report resulted in a not responsible verdict. Of the respondents who were found responsible, four were expelled and the other one was suspended. Stalking had the next most severe actions, with one student expelled and one suspended. Third most severe was non-consensual sexual contact, for which 80 percent of those responsible were suspended. Intimate partner violence, the last category with more than one investigation, mostly resulted in educational measures.

Though the MIT Title IX report does not mention the outcomes of investigations about faculty or staff, MIT does release information to the press about specific potential cases, like those involving the retired professor Walter Lewin, who was found responsible and whose videos were removed from OCW, and current faculty member Junot Diaz, about whom MIT reported that it had “not found or received information that would lead us to take any action to restrict Professor Diaz in his role as an MIT faculty member.” When asked about what factors impact release of information, HR said that “decisions on releasing some information publicly is made on a case-by-case basis.” When emailed about the factors that impact this decision, HR declined to respond. Since bias may exist in disclosing information about faculty decisions, these press releases provide only a limited and curated perspective when trying to understand how MIT handles cases with faculty/staff as respondents.

Unreleased data

Missing data prevents a complete understanding of the prevalence of gender-based discrimination and violence as well as MIT’s response to it.

The National Academies report states, “For the people in an institution to understand that the institution does not tolerate sexual harassment, it must show that it does investigate and then hold perpetrators accountable in a reasonable timeframe.” MIT’s Title IX reports deviate from this recommendation by not releasing data about anonymized punishments to faculty or staff. Four peer institutions already release this data: Yale, Princeton, Brown and Stanford. Given that more gender-based formal investigations have gone through HR than through the Committee on Discipline in the last three academic years, this missing data makes up a large chunk of information on how MIT deals with gender-based cases, especially in cases with larger power imbalances.

When compared with peer-institutions’ Title IX reports, MIT lumps faculty and staff into the same category, whereas other institutions, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford, separate data about faculty and staff. Yale and Stanford further differentiate postdocs from staff in their reports. However, Brown gave no affiliation distinction in its 2016–2017 report.

Yale, Princeton, Brown, and Stanford’s reports all include retaliation data and findings, which is not discussed in MIT’s Title IX report. T9BR told The Tech, “If the Title IX office receives reports of retaliation in a case involving students, it will be included in the report; no formal complaints of this nature have been received to date.”

Columbia reports information on outcomes of investigations with student respondents, similar to MIT, but it also reports the timeliness of those investigations, which MIT does not report. Caltech does not produce aggregate annual Title IX data, in contrast to the other schools examined.

Path forward

In November 2017, President Rafael Reif released a letter to the community discussing the need to improve policies around sexual harassment. In it, Reif said, “I am conscious, however, that especially on questions around faculty and staff misconduct, we are not where we need to be.” He added that he is charging four offices “to study our policies and practices, strengthen them where necessary, increase the community’s awareness of them and develop a process so that findings of sexual misconduct are consistently handled in a way that balances fairness and transparency.”

The tasks Reif mentioned, as outlined in the letter, do not explicitly mention openness of data. When The Tech asked HR about data availability of faculty/staff investigations, HR mentioned that the leaders of these offices would be proposing updates this academic year but did not explicitly mention any public data availability.

In an email to The Tech, Goodman wrote, “It's incredibly important, especially in the current political climate, that MIT continuously reaffirms its support for those who have faced sexual misconduct and/or acts of bias.” She concluded, “It's hard to look at these numbers knowing that they represent some of the worst experiences of members of our community, but by becoming equipped with this knowledge, we can work towards creating a safe campus for everyone.”

The opinions expressed by Sarah Goodman are her personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of Graduate Women at MIT as a whole.