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College releases campus climate survey results

| Monday, October 10, 2016

In January and February, 33 percent of Saint Mary’s students participated in a survey regarding the campus climate about sexual assault. The results show 9.5 percent of respondents had been sexually assaulted while enrolled at the College.

The survey defined sexual assault as “five specific types of sexual contact, which respondents did not want or for which they did not give consent,” including “touching of a sexual nature,” oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex and “anal or vaginal penetration with a body part other than penis or tongue, or by an object.”

SMC Campus Climate webAndrea Savage

President Jan Cervelli said the data serves as a reminder that members of the Saint Mary’s community must collaborate if they wish to minimize incidences of sexual assault.

“The results of the survey are critical to informing the strategies Saint Mary’s will develop to prevent sexual assault, support victims and promote student safety,” Cervelli said. “Everyone in the campus community has a role to play.”

According to the survey data, 97.1 percent of respondents said the College has provided them with information about what sexual assault is and how to recognize it, compared to the national average of 79.1 percent of women at other institutions. Vice president of student affairs Karen Johnson said this statistic is likely high at Saint Mary’s because of the information first years receive during orientation.

“I hope that because we do some concentrated programming for our first-year students, they build on it as they go to school here,” Johnson said. “We must be doing something right because students are getting information, and they’re retaining it.”

Of those students who had observed situations they believe to be sexual assaults, 82.1 percent intervened, as compared to the national average of 62.7 percent, according to the survey. Johnson said Saint Mary’s tight-knit student body promotes community values that encourage students to care for one another.

“Our students are, for the most part, committed, concerned and mature young women who want to help each other out and be there for each other,” Johnson said.

Johnson said visual aids, such as laptop stickers and infographics, will be distributed and hung around campus to outline resources for students who have experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and relationship violence. Students can leave an anonymous voicemail message for the Title IX coordinator Kris Urschel at 574-284-4777 or email her at [email protected], she said.

“We need to continue to try to get students to feel comfortable reporting what’s happened to them,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to get every student who feels [she’s] been involved in some type of sexual violence to tell us, so we can help.”

Senior Kayla Gaughan, who served on the College’s Presidential Task Force for Sexual Assault, said she hopes the survey results inform students of the realities they may face while at Saint Mary’s.

“[Sexual assault] happens here just like it happens on all college campuses,” Gaughan said. “There’s room to improve, and there’s ways to address it without silencing it, and that’s what we’re doing with this climate study forum.”

Gaughan said the community must examine the campus climate results before it can make improvements.

“We fall in line … about where we thought we’d be,” Gaughan said. “In some ways, that’s kind of disheartening because we have so much programming on our campus, but I think it also puts in perspective that it’s not just this far, distant concept that [sexual assault] doesn’t happen here at Saint Mary’s.”

Bystander intervention initiatives such as the Green Dot program, effectively prepare students to prevent and end incidences of sexual assault they may witness, Gaughan said.

“I think it’s just a tribute to how much we care about our students, and I think it’s a tribute to how much our students care about their other sisters,” Gaughan said. “It’s kind of a little badge of honor that we have.”

Senior Caylin McCallick, who served on the task force, said the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) strives to foster a supportive campus environment for survivors. She said the office was created in response to the case of Lizzy Seeberg, a former Saint Mary’s student who killed herself after reporting an alleged sexual assault in 2010.

“[Seeberg] paved the way for other Belles to see some sort of justice with the creation of BAVO,” McCallick said. “That is the legacy I think we should remember from that case. From that tragedy, we got BAVO.”

(Editor’s note: The Observer later learned that the comments made by McCallick reflected a factual inaccuracy. The College received a grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women in 2009 to create BAVO, which opened in the fall of 2010. Seeberg died after the office was established.) 

A committee of students and faculty will meet with representatives from Notre Dame and Holy Cross College to form a mutual understanding of one another’s reporting policies and resources for survivors, McCallick said. She said the survey results are a step in the right direction to ending rape culture on college campuses.

“We’re in a unique position nationally in that we’re a women’s college,” McCallick said. “That puts us in the spotlight for being an example as to how to go about changing culture and ending misogyny and ending victim-blaming.”

According to the survey, 75 percent of survivors said they consumed alcohol before the assault, compared with the women’s national average of 63.9 percent. 79.2 percent of survivors said their assailant drank alcohol before sexually assaulting them.

“The alcohol use was particularly distressing to me,” McCallick said. “If we crack down on underage drinking on campus, because so much alcohol is involved in these cases, then maybe this wouldn’t happen as much.”

McCallick said all students play a role in eliminating sexual assault.

“It should be a call to action every time you see something happen,” she said. “There are small things we can all do to make those reported one in 10 students feel like they’re not alone.”

The results mainly aligned with the administration’s expectations, but there is still much room for improvement, Johnson said.

“A big takeaway is that, while we’re doing a good job, we need to be continually evolving and doing a better job,” Johnson said. “We’re above the national average on alcohol use, so that’s another area that we’re going to start really diving into and figuring out what we can do … [The survey] gave us some good baseline data to work from and make corrections as we go along.”

McCallick said she hopes the survey results resonate with students and inspire them to take a stand against sexual assault.

“It’s easy to distance yourself from those numbers, but it should be a call to action every time you see something happen,” McCallick said. “If you see someone at a party who is incapacitated, you make sure he or she is okay. You take action. This is on all of us.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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