How IR Can Help With Campus Climate Studies

cate.jpgCate Rowen is Executive Director of Institutional Research at Smith College. As a member of the AIR Campus Climate Workgroup, Cate recently helped develop a statement that encourages IR offices to lead or support efforts to bring data to guide campus decision making with regard to sexual assault. She spoke with eAIR about how IR professionals can assist with campus climate studies, including student surveys.  

Interview by Amelia Parnell

eAIR: AIR recently surveyed a sample of members and found that 68% expect their IR offices to help develop campus sexual assault initiatives. What resources do you suggest IR offices consult to become familiar with these issues? 

This is a rapidly evolving issue, so IR people should not go it alone. The most important resources you can access are probably on your own campus. I suggest connecting with the Title IX coordinators and the health educators on your campus. Title IX professionals have in-depth knowledge of the issues and challenges, and health educators are usually well-versed in the research on this topic.

Collaborating is always important, but on this issue it's essential! There may also be faculty on your campus who engage in related research, and their expertise can be invaluable.

Most importantly, the research we do should inform our campuses' efforts, policies, and initiatives; our surveys should address the questions raised by campus practitioners.

In addition to establishing these partnerships, it's important to stay connected to higher education news in order to follow these issues. This survey is not currently required by law, and it's not clear if or when it will be. Campuses should think carefully about what timing works for them given their campus needs and relevant external contexts.

eAIR: What resources would you suggest IR offices consult to help them prepare for involvement with campus climate studies?

I would recommend Notalone.gov, which suggests climate survey modules that can be a good starting point.

We can also learn from the experiences of campuses that were ahead of the curve on these issues. MIT has shared its survey instrument and report and has provided a resource guide for other campuses.

One thing to be very aware of is the issue of anonymity. As we know all too well, the constraints around anonymous surveys often suppress response rates. However, IR should be an advocate for the anonymity of respondents given the sensitive nature of the questions and the fact that identified survey responses could be subpoenaed in a court case. IR has an important role to play in ensuring that any surveys conducted are set up in a way that does not allow any form of re-identification. For example, Qualtrics users can employ a method for anonymizing responses that allows for targeted reminders.

For more information, view the statement from the AIR Campus Climate Workgroup.