Sexual Assault Surveys: New Challenges for IR

​AIR is tracking conversations related to sexual assault on college campuses. In particular, the Association is interested in the ways in which the field of institutional research can collaborate with and support subject matter experts across higher education to address this pressing issue.

AIR68percent.jpgA recent AIR survey explored members’ awareness of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Survey respondents were also asked to indicate how involved their IR offices will be in providing evidence of institutional climate regarding sexual assault. Of the senior-level IR professionals who were aware of the White House Task Force, more than two-thirds (68%) anticipate that their IR offices will be involved in these initiatives. When queried about the collection of campus-level data on sexual assault, respondents’ primary concerns related to protecting privacy and confidentiality, and data validity related to underreporting.

An AIR campus climate workgroup explored the Association’s role in national conversations about sexual assault on college campuses. The group tracked developments in the field and prepared a statement that addresses how institutional research professionals can be involved in campus-level strategies for addressing sexual violence. AIR expresses deep gratitude for the time, insight, and thoughtful leadership Jennifer Brown, Qing Lin Mack, Cate Rowen, Dawn Geronimo Terkla, and Alex Wagner shared in crafting the statement below.

What should you do?

  • Stay informed. Federal recommendations and/or mandates are still being developed and pilot programs are underway. Anticipate that you may be asked to lead in campus climate surveys and reporting on campus sexual assault issues.

  • Build a network. Institutional researchers bring knowledge and skills to this work, but we also need the assistance of subject matter experts who know the context and sensitivities related to campus sexual assault. Data quality often depends on very nuanced communications and respect for the individuals we survey.

  • Research. Understand what your campus already knows about these issues, who the decision makers are, and what decisions are needed to inform improvements.

  • Take advantage of professional development opportunities. Build your skills and networks with AIR members and other higher education professionals who are working to find best practices for this work.

Read the workgroup’s statement below and join the conversation with comments at the bottom of the page.  

Statement from AIR Campus Climate Workgroup
September 30, 2014

The Association for Institutional Research shares the national concern about reducing sexual violence on campuses and making sure that our campuses are safe places for students, faculty, and staff to learn and work. In our profession, focused as we are on “providing the data-informed foundation for good decision making,” we also understand that there are many questions and concerns about how to get good, reliable information that can guide effective actions to reduce or eliminate such violence, while protecting confidentiality in a way that is legally sound.

Currently, as our recent AIR survey on the topic demonstrated, the level of awareness about the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault varies considerably among members, from those who are not aware of the initiative to those who are monitoring the issue closely. As with most issues in our profession, much depends on the particular campus and the location and focus of the IR office within it. We note that the White House materials primarily focus on campus Title IX representatives.

For AIR members, it is the proposed campus climate survey mandate that most often brings institutional research to the table. At this time, there is no mandated survey requirement, but campuses are encouraged by the White House Task Force to undertake such surveys to understand the scope and breadth of the issue and to assist the campus taking steps to eliminate the problem in the long run, and to improve campus policies and practices in dealing with the issues to achieve the long term goal. Campus government relations staff can assist in tracking federal legislation on the issue.

AIR encourages IR offices to lead as appropriate or to support others with our expertise. We endorse bringing data – qualitative and quantitative – to this issue to guide campus decision making. AIR recommends that campuses combine issue-specific experts, institutional researchers, students, faculty, and staff in the development of a campus-specific strategy which may include campus climate surveys, assessment of policies and practices, and assessments of campus-wide knowledge of policies and practices. A complete plan would also include a long-term process for monitoring and evaluating the results of campus actions to reduce/eliminate sexual violence over time.



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