2020-2021 Campus Climate Survey

In response to the passage of New York State Education Law Article 129-B (Section 6445), in 2016, a taskforce led by the college’s Title IX coordinator developed the Mount Saint Mary College Campus Experiences Survey.  The law requires that each institution of higher education in New York administer a survey on their campus every other year.

In 2018, the taskforce agreed to replace our internally developed questionnaire with an instrument closely based on the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct developed by Westat in 2014 for the Association of American Universities (AAU). The use of an existing national survey provided additional assurances of validity and reliability in our results along with benchmarking comparisons to external data.

The survey was administered to all enrolled during the Fall 2020 semester. 698 (34%) students responded to the invitation to participate with 480  students providing a complete response which is higher than the 384 completing in 2018. This was an improvement over the 2018 survey with a response rate which was  26% .   

The 2020 survey had a core set of questions that were asked of every respondent. Additional questions were administered if respondents reported being victimized. For Harassment, Stalking and Intimate Partner Violence, follow-up questions were asked for each type of misconduct. These follow-up questions asked for information across all reported incidents for each form of victimization. 

Key Findings:

  • Overall, 6 percent of student respondents reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at Mount Saint Mary College.
  • The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female student respondents was 7 percent, including 3 percent who experienced penetration.
  • Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others ranged from 5 percent to 100 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.
  • The most common reasons for not reporting incidents of sexual assault and sexual misconduct were: ” I did not think anything would be done” and “I did not think it was serious enough to report”. 
  • More than 7 in 10 student respondents (73 percent) believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials.

More Information:

The four different types of nonconsensual sexual contact included in the AAU Survey reflect the different definitions that are used by IHEs, as well as what has been used in previous published studies on campus sexual assault and sexual misconduct. The AAU Survey was designed to estimate sexual assault and sexual misconduct using various definitions to allow shaping of IHE policy according to the type of behavior and tactic. 

Students were asked about nonconsensual sexual contact that was the result of physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation. This combination of tactics and behaviors generally meets legal definitions of rape (penetration) and sexual battery (sexual touching). The definitions provided to the respondent for the behaviors included (see items G1 through G5 on the survey): 

  • Penetration:
    • when one person puts a penis, finger, or object inside someone else’s vagina or anus
    • when someone’s mouth or tongue makes contact with someone else’s genitals.

 

  • Sexual touching:
    • kissing
    • touching someone’s breast, chest, crotch, groin, or buttocks
    • grabbing, groping, or rubbing against the other in a sexual way, even if the touching is over the other’s clothes

 

Physical force was defined on the survey as incidents when someone was: 

“…. holding you down with his or her body weight, pinning your arms, hitting or kicking you, or using or threatening to use a weapon against you.” 

Incapacitation was defined on the survey as a student being:

“….unable to consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol” 

Overall, 6.4 percent of MSMC students reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation since enrolling at the college, compared to 11.7 percent of students attending any of the 27 universities participating in the original AAU study.

This overall rate masks large differences by gender and enrollment status. Females have higher rates of this type of victimization than males at 6.8% and 3.0%, respectively, at MSMC. The victimization rates for females and males across the 27 AAU institutions shows an even larger disparity at 18.9% and 4.3% respectively.  Males represent approximately 40% of the AAU population while only 18% at MSMC, which can skew the overall comparison between AAU and MSMC. 

One of the more important risk factors for nonconsensual sexual contact is the use of alcohol and drugs. Among undergraduate females, about as many individuals reported penetration by incapacitation (2.5%) as by physical force (2.3%). For sexual touching, a larger percentage of the undergraduate females reported being physically forced when compared to being incapacitated (5.9% vs. 3.3%). There are small percentages that report that both force and incapacitation occurred (e.g., 1.6% of undergraduate females).

Coercion is defined as involving threats of serious non-physical harm or promising rewards. This was defined for respondents on the survey as (see questionnaire items G6 and G7):

…threatening serious non-physical harm or promising rewards such that you felt you must comply? Examples include: 

  • threatening to give you bad grades or cause trouble for you at work n promising good grades or a promotion at work
  • threatening to share damaging information about you with your family, friends, or authority figures
  • threatening to post damaging information about you online.

 

For the time period since students entered MSMC, nonconsensual contact involving coercion was reported by less than 1 percent of the students. Females and males were about as likely to report this type of tactic (0.3% for females; 0.0% for males). These victimization rates are consistent with what the AAU results. 

The survey captured emerging student codes of conduct which make it a violation if both partners in a sexual encounter do not explicitly consent. To develop the questions, affirmative consent policies from institutions in AAU and the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) were reviewed. To our knowledge, this is one of the first surveys to measure this type of tactic. The question on absence of affirmative consent (AAC) was introduced with the following definition (see questionnaire items G8 and G9): Since you have been a student at [University], has someone had contact with you involving penetration or sexual touching without your active, ongoing voluntary agreement? Examples include someone:

  • initiating sexual activity despite your refusal
  • ignoring your cues to stop or slow down
  • went ahead without checking in or while you were still deciding
  • otherwise failed to obtain your consent

 

Females were the most likely to be victimized by this type of tactic. For example, since enrolling at MSMC, 3.4 percent of undergraduate females were victimized by this tactic compared to 0.0 percent of males.  The AAU victimization rate for the same tactic for undergraduate females attending one of the 27 institutions participating in the study was11.4 percent.   

Students were asked about their experiences related to three other forms of sexual assault and sexual misconduct: (1) sexual harassment, (2) stalking and (3) intimate partner violence.

Sexual Harassment. (D1-D5)
Sexual harassment was defined as a series of behaviors that interfered with the victim’s academic or professional performances, limited the victim’s ability to participate in an academic program, or created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive social, academic, or work environment. This definition is in line with campus policies, as well as those of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s definition regarding “hostile environment” and the U.S. Department of Education. To provide this definition to respondents, each question on harassment was prefaced with the following text (see questionnaire items D1 through D5): 

“These next questions ask about situations in which a student at [University], or someone employed by or otherwise associated with [University] said or did something that:

  • interfered with your academic or professional performance,
  • limited your ability to participate in an academic program, or n created an intimidating, hostile or offensive social, academic or work environment” 

 

The specific behaviors referenced were taken from several different scales measuring harassment: 

  • made sexual remarks or told jokes or stories that were insulting or offensive to you?
  • made inappropriate or offensive comments about your or someone else’s body, appearance or sexual activities?
  • said crude or gross sexual things to you or tried to get you to talk about sexual matters when you didn’t want to?
  • emailed, texted, tweeted, phoned, or instant messaged offensive sexual remarks, jokes, stories, pictures or videos to you that you didn’t want?
  • continued to ask you to go out, get dinner, have drinks or have sex even though you said, “No”?

 

 Overall, 19 percent of students indicated that they have been the victims of sexual harassment since enrolled at the college. Students identifying as females are most likely to be victims of sexual harassment.  22 percent of female undergraduates and 10 percent of male undergraduates report being sexually harassed. The most common behavior cited by the students was making inappropriate comments about their body, appearance, or sexual behavior (15%); followed by making sexual remarks, or insulting or offensive jokes or stories (11%).  The offender’s affiliation to the Mount was most often described as a student (83%). The most common relationship of the offender to the victim is a friend or acquaintance (60%), followed by a stranger (43%). 

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) 
The measure of IPV was intended to capture violence associated with relationships that would not be captured in the questions on nonconsensual sexual contact. These questions were administered to anyone who said they had been in any “partnered relationship” since enrolling in college. This was approximately 65 percent of the student population. A partner relationship included: 

  • casual relationship or hook-up
  • steady or serious relationship
  • marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or cohabitation 

 

To be classified as a victim, respondents had to say that a partner had done one of the following (see questions F1 through F3 on the survey): 

  • controlled or tried to control you? Examples could be when someone:
    • kept you from going to classes or pursuing your educational goals
    • did not allow you to see or talk with friends or family – made decisions for you such as, where you go or what you wear or eat
    • threatened to “out” you to others
    • threatened to physically harm you, someone you love, or themselves
  • used any kind of physical force against you? Examples could be when someone
    • bent your fingers or bit you
    • choked, slapped, punched or kicked you
    • hit you with something other than a fist
    • attacked you with a weapon, or otherwise physically hurt or injured you 

 

Since enrolled in the college, 9 percent of the student population who had been in a partnered relationship reported experiencing IPV. 

Stalking
To measure stalking, students were asked whether someone (see survey items E1 through E4): 

  • made unwanted phone calls, sent emails, voice, text or instant messages, or posted messages, pictures or videos on social networking sites in a way that made you afraid for your personal safety
  • showed up somewhere or waited for you when you did not want that person to be there in a way that made you afraid for your personal safety
  • spied on, watched or followed you either in person or using devices or software in a way that made you afraid for your personal safety 

 

To be considered stalking, the respondent had to say that these behaviors, either singly or in combination, occurred more than once and were done by the same person. 

Overall, 6 percent of students reported that they had been the victims of stalking since first enrolling at the college or university.  Female undergraduates reported being victims of stalking at a slightly higher rate of 7 percent.

Most often, the offender’s affiliation to the university was described as a student (64%), particularly among undergraduate students. In describing the relationship of the offender to the victim, students most often indicated that it was a friend or acquaintance (64%), followed by a stranger (41%), and someone they had dated or were intimate with (14%). 

One important policy concern is whether victims of sexual assault and misconduct report it to either the appropriate university agency or another organization, such as law enforcement. To understand how often this happens, those students reporting a victimization were presented with a list of agencies that were tailored to specific campus resources. This list ranged from agencies concerned with prosecuting offenders (e.g., the Title IX office; campus or local police) to those concerned with assisting the victim with the consequences of the incident (e.g., health care providers; victim services). Students were asked if they reported the victimization to any of these places (hereafter referred to as “agencies”). These questions were asked for those students reporting sexual contact involving physical force and incapacitation for each behavior (penetration, sexual touching). It was also asked of those reporting IPV and stalking.

Overall, the rates of reporting varied considerably.  The highest was for sexual harassment (100%), penetration by force (25%) and stalking (25%).  The rates are lowest for sexual touching involving both physical force (5%) and incapacitation (0%). When asked why the incident was not reported, the dominant reason differed based on the severity of the assault.  For the incidents involving penetration by incapacitation, the most frequent reason for not reporting was I did not think it was serious enough to report and I did not think anything would be done.  For incidents involving sexual touching, stalking, or IPV, the most frequent reason for not reporting was that it was not considered serious enough. However, all students (100%) reported telling someone else about the incident, most frequently a friend. 

Those who reported to an agency during the current school year were asked to evaluate their experience.  However, only 3 of our total respondents indicated that they reached out to one of the agencies listed following an incident since Fall 2020.  

The survey included a wide variety of measures of the climate with respect to sexual assault and sexual misconduct. This section of the report describes the results for four of these measures. Response to a Report of Sexual Assault or Sexual Misconduct. Students were asked a series of questions about what would happen if an instance of sexual assault or sexual misconduct was reported. Overall, the majority of the students generally said it was very or extremely likely that a positive result would happen as a result of reporting: 

  • 55 percent believe that it is very or extremely likely that the victim would be supported by other students in making a report.
  • 73 percent believe it very or extremely likely that the report would be taken seriously by campus officials.
  • 69 percent said it is very or extremely likely that the individual’s safety would be protected.
  • 66 percent believe it is very or extremely likely that a fair investigation would occur.
  • 63 percent of students thought it was very or extremely likely that campus officials would take action against the offender.
  • 63 percent believe it is very or extremely likely that campus officials would take action to address factors that may have led to the sexual assault or sexual misconduct on campus. 

 

Students were asked whether they have been a bystander to the occurrence of sexual assault or misconduct, and if so, the extent to which they intervened and the reason for their intervention decision. Overall, 6 percent of respondents have suspected that a friend may have been sexually assaulted. Among those who reported they suspected a friend had been sexually assaulted, 89 percent took some type of action, such as speaking to the friend or someone else to seek help. Overall, 12 percent of respondents reported they have witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, 62 percent indicated that they did nothing, with 23 percent saying they weren’t sure what to do, and 39 percent saying they did nothing for another reason. Overall, 6 percent of respondents indicated that they had witnessed someone acting in a sexually violent or harassing manner. Among those who witnessed this, 39 percent indicated that they did nothing, with 25 percent saying they weren’t sure what to do, and 14 percent saying they did nothing for another reason.

Students were asked a series of questions related to their knowledge of policies related to sexual assault and sexual misconduct: 

  • 38 percent of students reported they are very or extremely knowledgeable about how the university defines sexual assault and sexual misconduct.
  • 48 percent said they were very or extremely knowledgeable about where to get help if they or a friend are victims of sexual assault or misconduct.
  • 43 percent said they were very or extremely knowledgeable about where to make a report if a student or friend experienced a sexual assault or sexual misconduct.

 

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