Results of Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct released

Barnhart to hold series of community forums on sexual misconduct prevention and response

MIT’s results from the Spring 2019 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct were released in an email from President L. Rafael Reif and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 to the MIT community Tuesday.

The survey, conducted at 33 universities, contained questions on topics ranging from student experiences of sexual assault to knowledge of campus resources for sexual misconduct prevention and response.

At MIT, 1,943 undergraduates and 2,399 graduate students participated in the survey, yielding an overall response rate of 39.6 percent. Women undergraduates had the highest response rate among all students of 52 percent.

According to the survey, 7.2 percent of MIT students have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent. This includes 18.4 percent of undergraduate women, 13.9 percent of non-heterosexual students, 11.9 percent of transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary (TGQN) students, 8.3 percent of graduate women, 6.5 percent of undergraduate men, and 1.4 percent of graduate men. 

These rates were slightly lower than the AAU nationwide averages. Thirteen percent of all students in universities participating in the survey experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, with rates of 25.9 percent for undergraduate women, 11.9 percent for TGQN students, and 9.6 percent for graduate women.

In an interview with The Tech, Barnhart said, “The rates that we cite for MIT are lower than those for the AAU aggregate schools. But we want to make sure that as we’re talking about this, we send the message that the rates at MIT are still very concerning. We have a problem.”

The survey found that one in six MIT students experienced sexual harassment, and that 70 percent of this group were women. One in three TGQN students at MIT experienced sexual harassment.

Seventy-nine percent of MIT students responded that it is very likely that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault seriously, and 61 percent responded that it is very likely that campus officials would conduct a fair investigation of reported sexual assault. There was a statistically significant difference between the reponses for women and men: 84.2 percent of undergraduate men indicated that campus officials would take a report of sexual assault seriously, compared to 68.4 percent of undergraduate women.

Nearly one in 10 MIT students responded that they have witnessed a situation they believed could have led to a sexual assault. Of these, 78.7 percent took some kind of action in response, with 48.4 percent directly intervening or confronting the person responsible for the situation.

Only 33.1 percent of students reported they were very knowledgeable about how MIT defines sexual assault. 41.4 percent reported they were very knowledgeable about where victims of sexual misconduct can find help. 92.3 percent of incoming students and 83.7 percent of returning students reported that they had completed at least one training about sexual misconduct.

Two in three MIT students reported that they are aware of MIT’s Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) and Title IX and Bias Response (T9BR) offices as resources for victims of sexual assault. The greatest percentages of respondents were aware of MIT Medical (94 percent), MIT Police (86 percent), and MIT Student Mental Health and Counseling Services (81 percent).

In response to the survey results, Barnhart is organizing a series of community forums on sexual misconduct prevention and response. The first forum will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5 in 10-250.

During the forum, four working groups (Leadership and Engagement, Training and Prevention, Policies and Reporting, and Academic and Organizational Relationships) will present recommendations and collect community feedback in response to the 2018 National Academies Report on the Sexual Harassment of Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Barnhart plans to expand ongoing sexual misconduct education for students and employees. “We have to provide education that touches the whole community. We’ve moved from requiring incoming first years to take sexual assault online training to requiring that all members of our community do that. For the next step, we need to be more systematic and comprehensive with increasing education efforts, especially in-person training,” Barnhart told The Tech. For that purpose, new staff will be hired in VPR, T9BR, and Student Mental Health and Counseling Services. 

Within T9BR, a new Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office (IDHR) will be launched next semester. IDHR will implement a new policy for complaints of sexual misconduct against faculty and staff, including commissioning professional investigators for neutral fact-finding and increased transparency about aggregate outcomes.

In Spring 2014, Barnhart developed and administered a campus-wide survey to measure MIT community attitudes on sexual assault. According to Reif’s email, this was “the first [survey] of its kind in US higher education.” In 2014, 35 percent of female undergraduates, 16 percent of female graduate students, and 14 percent of male undergraduates at MIT reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault.

Barnhart said that because MIT did not participate in the 2015 AAU survey, it is difficult to directly compare the change in prevalence of sexual misconduct at MIT over time. The nationwide aggregate survey results show that the rate of nonconsensual sexual contact increased from 2015 to 2019 by 3 percent for undergraduate women, 2.4 percent for graduate women, and 1.4 percent for undergraduate men.

“One interpretation of these results is that many of the efforts [to reduce sexual misconduct] weren’t so effective. But some experts say that increased awareness is in part contributing to those numbers increasing because people can name the experience now,” Barnhart said.