Office of the President
September 21, 2015

Sexual assault climate survey report

Committees and Reports

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

Last year, Brown’s Sexual Assault Task Force (SATF) emphasized the importance of taking an evidence-based, data-driven approach to addressing the problem of gender-based harassment and violence at Brown. To better understand the issues on our campus, Brown joined with 27 universities to collaborate with the American Association of Universities (AAU) to sponsor a student survey, conducted last spring, designed to assess the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and collect student views on sexual misconduct.

Today, we are releasing a report of the survey results for Brown, to coincide with the AAU’s release of the aggregated results from across all of the participating institutions. This report was prepared by Westat, an independent survey research firm that conducted the survey. The report reinforces the SATF’s call to action for confronting the very real problem of gender-based harassment and violence.

I am writing to:

  1. share findings of significant concern to our community,
  2. tell you how Brown will use the survey results, and
  3. discuss next steps for our community.

Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct

The results of the survey show that, since starting college, 25% of Brown undergraduate women and 6.8% of undergraduate men who participated in the survey experienced either unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration due to physical force or incapacitation. Specifically, for attempted or completed penetration since starting college, the figure was 10.1% for undergraduate women and 2.7% for undergraduate men.

When focusing on seniors, whose reports encompass nearly all of their time at Brown, 33% of women and 8% of men reported unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration due to physical force or incapacitation since starting college. For attempted or completed penetration since starting college, the figure was 13.4% for senior women.

Other important findings are that TGQN (trans, genderqueer or nonconforming or questioning) undergraduates reported rates of sexual assault that were similar to those for undergraduate women, and that 8.0% of female graduate and medical students reported unwanted sexual touching or attempted or completed penetration since starting at Brown.

These numbers are sobering, but equally troubling is that the majority of students who reported sexual assault by force on the survey did not report the incident to the University (60.5%). An estimated 70.5% of those who did not report they had been victimized thought the incident was not serious enough to report, and 47.9% thought that a report would not be taken seriously.

I cannot do justice to the full scope of the detailed survey results in this brief letter, but we have prepared a summary that focuses on some of the areas of greatest concern for our community. I encourage you to read the full report and carefully review the data tables, which cover not only sexual assault but also the important issues of sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking.

I also encourage you to read the full AAU report that includes information for all 27 institutions, so that Brown’s results can be placed in a broader national context. A comparison of Brown to the full AAU sample shows that our results for gender-based harassment and violence are higher than average for some measures and subgroups of students, and lower than average for others. However, we consistently score lower than many other schools for students trusting that campus officials would take action against individuals accused of sexual assault.

Because approaches to research measuring the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses vary so greatly, I’m gratified that Brown participated in this AAU survey that allows a direct comparison to reporting on other college campuses using consistent definitions of assault and identical methods of data collection.

How Brown will use the survey results

The data in the AAU report support the conclusions of the SATF, that the problem of sexual assault and the lack of trust around issues of reporting are quite serious and demand the full and sustained attention of all members of the Brown community. The survey results will be used in several ways:

  • Tracking progress: The survey establishes a clear baseline against which we can assess ourselves going forward. We will repeat this survey at least every four years, allowing us to track our progress in preventing gender-based harassment and violence and improving support services.
  • Understanding risk in different groups of students: The report contains valuable information about marginalized groups on campus and their varying levels of risk, and it will be important for us to dig deeply into those data to address dynamics of power and privilege to meet the needs of many of our students.
  • Informing education and prevention efforts: The report includes evidence on students’ knowledge and use of campus resources, as well as information on where (on-campus or off-campus) and when (during the semester or during breaks) assaults occur, all of which will inform our education and prevention efforts.

Brown has come a long way since the AAU survey was conducted last April. In May, we hired a new Title IX program officer, Amanda Walsh, who is managing a new office that oversees the prevention of sexual assault and the policies and practices that address assault when it occurs.

Since May, we have adopted a comprehensive policy on sexual assault and harassment that covers all Brown students, faculty and staff; established a new complaint process that is a direct response to student concerns about our former investigation and hearing process; and formed a new faculty-student-staff Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board that will review our programs and progress. In addition, we rolled out a new sexual assault training module for incoming students and enhanced our orientation programs for new graduate students. New training for faculty and staff will begin next month. These measures come directly from the SATF recommendations.

The data in the AAU report have revealed areas for ongoing attention, including education about available support resources and greater clarity around our procedures. While we have increased the transparency of our complaint process through the use of trained investigators and specified timeframes for each step, we are working to ensure the information is clear and accessible to the entire campus.

Next steps for the Brown community

I hope the results of this survey will generate important and welcome discussions on campus on sexual assault and how to prevent it. Two opportunities for conversation have already been planned:

  • The Undergraduate Council of Students will hold a “UCS Open Forum on Title IX at Brown” from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23, at Metcalf Auditorium. This forum will provide students an occasion to ask questions of Amanda and other senior administrators about recent changes in Title IX policies and processes, as well as the AAU survey.
  • The results of the AAU survey will be presented and discussed at the next meeting of the Brown University Community Council (BUCC) on Tuesday, September 29, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Kasper Multipurpose Room of the Stephen Robert Campus Center.

The release of this report provides an opportunity to reiterate this charge to the campus from the SATF in their December 2014 Interim Report:

 “The current norms and culture of the Brown University campus are not acceptable, and as a community we must seek in word and deed to fundamentally change that culture in order to ensure that the Brown campus is a safe and welcoming place to learn, teach, conduct research, work, and live for all members of the community." 

Every instance of sexual assault at Brown is an egregious violation of our community values. I urge each and every one of you to contribute to addressing sexual violence. Intervene when you see a situation that could lead to a sexual assault. If you know someone who experienced an assault, help that person get needed help and support. Please join me in committing to cultivate a culture at Brown in which sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence and stalking are not tolerated. 

I want to thank the members of the Brown student community who participated in the AAU survey, and the many dedicated students, faculty and staff who continue to contribute to Brown’s commitment to this critical work.

Christina Paxson