College Holds Survey on Sexual Respect and Title IX
Issue   |   Wed, 02/17/2016 - 00:06

Sexual Respect Education and the Title IX teams are currently holding a climate survey on sexual respect. The survey is a shorter version of the one distributed in December 2014, and is part of a tentative plan to begin administering long- and short-form surveys in alternating years. Many survey questions were carried over from the 2014 version in order to measure change across time.

According to the campus-wide email that contained a link to the survey, the information gathered from the surveys will be used to create programs and to evaluate the college’s policies on issues of sexual respect and misconduct. Other campus organizations using the data include the Peer Advocates, the Sexual Respect Task Force and the Title IX Review Committee. The survey, which is open to all students, began Feb. 7 and will remain open until Feb. 24.

According to sexual respect educator Amanda Collings Vann, the survey mainly focuses on experiences students had with incidents of sexual violence and the student body’s perception of the Title IX process, including sexual misconduct hearings and investigations.

The survey first asked students about their personal beliefs, such as the definition of consent and the relationship between intoxication and incidents of sexual assault.

“I think one of the major [misconceptions] is just what consent looks like,” said Andrea Sanchez ’18, a peer advocate and a member of the task force. “I remember from the climate survey last year, there was one question on which people thought that rape could not occur if both parties were drunk. And I feel like that’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. I think it’s just a lack of education.”

Sanchez said that one reason to hold another climate survey this year was to collect data on the new first-years’ perceptions of sexual violence. The results of the 2014 survey were used to revamp programs for orientation, including presentations dealing with sexual respect. Vann said that the discussions of race brought up during Amherst Uprising also impacted orientation programming.

The survey also asked students whether they considered the college’s handling of sexual misconduct investigations and hearings to be fair.

“The 2014 survey was used as a way of benchmarking a moment in time with respect to people’s experiences and perceptions,” said Laurie Frankl, the college’s Title IX coordinator. “What the survey results help us do is a sense of the way that people are engaging with the Title IX processes, our sexual misconduct policy and the adjudication procedures.”

Frankl said people at the college are more familiar with the policies and procedures surrounding sexual violence only if they are directly involved in incidents. However, she said members of the community need to be more aware of the role of Title IX in daily campus life.

“I think it’s critically important for the entire community — students, staff and faculty — to have a familiarity with our sexual misconduct policy,” Frankl said. “It lays out expectations for behavior on campus, which are expectations for all of us. It’s important because each person here, each stakeholder in the community, can have a real sense of what this community expects of us as we come together.”

The survey also asked students about their experiences as victims or bystanders and their knowledge of on-campus support resources. Initiatives, such as the peer advocates’ anti-street harassment campaign last semester, cited the 2014 survey data. According to Vann, the survey results have helped to indicate common misconceptions in the community.

“I think the way in which Amherst has been talking about sexual violence, when I got here [in 2013], was very specific to sexual assault and rape,” Vann said. “Which I think is really important. But we also have students who experience stalking and relationship violence, so it’s important to educate our community on what violence really looks like in a relationship.”

However, Vann also said that since focusing its energy and resources on confronting sexual violence in the past few years, the college has seen improvements. Expanded support resources are available to students, including more academic and housing accommodations for students, more counseling center staff members who specialize in cases of sexual violence and “a base level of knowledge” among the faculty and staff about student support and reporting policies. The survey is partially intended to find out the student body’s perception of those resources.

“It should take students less time to complete, but still give us information that’s really important in terms of assessing the campus climate around experience with sexual violence and people’s willingness to engage in behavior that could prevent it,” Vann said.