University publishes 6th Title IX campus climate survey results
Kathryn Muchnick | Monday, October 9, 2023
On Sept. 15, the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) published its sixth Title IX climate survey.
The survey is administered every two years to “assess the knowledge, perceptions and experience of Notre Dame students in relation to sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating or domestic violence, stalking and other conduct that creates a sexually hostile environment,” according to OIE.
Around 6% of women and 1% of men indicated they personally experienced “nonconsensual sexual intercourse,” which includes any form of penetration, while a student at Notre Dame. Only 4% of women indicated similarly in 2020.
Approximately 192 students, or 4% of respondents overall, said they personally experienced “nonconsensual sexual intercourse.” Of these students, 57% said their experiences of nonconsensual sexual intercourse occurred on-campus residential buildings.
Emily Patterson, a member of the Title IX and Women’s Initiatives’ department of student government, said that at first, the percentages seemed small.
“But then when you crunch the numbers, it’s a lot of people,” Patterson said. “Like 200 people walking around in just this one isolated system that we have here. And, it’s like ‘OK, well, this is bigger than what we might think.’”
According to the survey, 32% of student respondents reported they had an experience with a fellow student disclosing an occurrence of sexual assault.
Reports of nonconsensual sexual contact were also slightly higher than in 2020, though reports of dating and domestic violence and stalking remained similar. About 19% of women — compared to 16% in 2020 — and 5% of men — a 1% increase from 2020 — said they experience other forms of nonconsensual sexual contact.
Erin Oliver, assistant vice president for institutional equity, said the decrease in participation response rate was the most surprising result to her.
All enrolled students, including graduate students, were invited to participate in the survey. About 37% of students completed the survey. By comparison, 47.5% of students completed the previous survey in 2020.
“I was concerned about that right out of the gate. What is causing this?” Oliver said. “It’s my understanding that nationally, this is a trend … but I think that that’s one piece for me. What else can we be doing or what do we need to be doing to solicit feedback and perspective from students?”
More than 80% of student respondents said the University response to sexual assault is somewhat, mostly or very effective. By comparison, 90% of students said the University response to sexual assault was somewhat to very effective in 2020.
After the results are collected from the climate survey, the assessment subcommittee from Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), which Oliver co-chairs with assistant vice president for student services Christine Caron Gebhardt, convenes to digest the results.
CSAP holds focus groups to “dig in” on the survey results, Oliver said.
“[The lower response rate] puts more responsibility on us to ensure that those focus groups are done and done well, and that we can reach as many and as diverse a group of students as possible,” she added.
The assessment subcommittee is also the body which works with Institutional Research, Innovation and Strategy (IRIS) to create and administer the survey.
Oliver said the survey questions are designed to have few changes from year to year to protect the quality of the longitudinal data.
“But there are occasional changes based on policy and procedure needs,” Oliver said. “So in 2020, we had major Title IX regulation changes, and when the federal law changed, we had to make substantial changes to our policies and procedures. So we adjusted some of that terminology and some of those questions in the survey.”
The 2020 regulation changes, which universities were required to comply with by Aug. 14, 2020, redefined sexual harassment, Oliver said. The regulations also shifted to requiring live hearings, where students’ advisers could cross-examine witnesses or involved parties.
In the 2023 climate survey, half of students agreed that “Notre Dame’s policies regarding sexual misconduct and sexual assault are clear,” and 29% of students somewhat agreed. Oliver said the shifting federal regulations play into this result.
“This regulatory space makes the requirements for our policies and procedures kind of challenging. The current Title IX laws are very prescriptive, from specific definitions to timelines for document reviews, things along those lines,” Oliver said. “I think that there’s a real reality to that [result] and that they are complex.”
Oliver said when a student reports something to the Title IX office, the first consultation is usually just a review of policies and procedures.
The 2020 regulation changes also required universities to decide whether to use a “preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing” standard as a burden of proof. Universities must use the same standard for all complaints, no matter if they involve student or faculty misconduct.
Notre Dame hearings require a “preponderance of the evidence” to make a determination, meaning it is more likely than not that a violation occurred.
Patterson said that she did not look at the University policies until she filed her own Title IX report.
“I think people haven’t read the policy,” she said. “It’s not clear what we have [in the policy] because everything is pretty broad, like all of the definitions are so broad. It’s just like, ‘Okay, you know, how am I going to win a Title IX case with this?’”
Oliver said they are currently waiting on the updated Title IX policies from the federal government, which were supposed to arrive in May but were delayed until October. She added she does not expect they will arrive in October, either.
The results brief also highlighted an increase in the percentage of reported incidents to the University. Students who experienced dating or domestic violence indicated the highest rates of reporting to the University at 25%, compared with 15% in 2020.
“When [increases] like that happen, that tells me that when we look at prevention, when we look at education, when we’re looking at support, that’s an area we need to focus on,” Oliver said. “Not that I think that there’s any less or any more of it happening — this survey’s really talking about what’s being reported to us. But it’s encouraging to me that we’re seeing that increase.”
Last week, NDPD sent a campus-wide email reporting a date rape drugging on campus and three druggings off-campus. Since the start of school on Aug. 22, the NDPD crime log included three instances of reported rape, harassment or battery that led to either a Title IX review or an OIE review. As of Oct. 9, a disposition is pending for the sexual battery, strangulation and stalking reported on Sept. 28.
Oliver said she hopes communication with students will be a priority of CSAP’s work in the coming year.
“I would really like to see some additional focus … on what does that communication look like? And how are we best getting good information and ingestible information to students to better educate them not only on the policies and procedures, but also just resources available?” Oliver said.