Mimi Ruthstiver

...less than 40 percent of Whittier College students reported that they feel safe on campus.
— Sexual Assault Climate Survey Results

Former Assistant Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Schrock presented the results of the 2016 Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey to approximately 30 students and faculty on Dec. 2 in Club 88. The optional and anonymous survey is produced by the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium and was distributed by Whittier’s Title IX Committee, headed by Schrock, from Feb. 16 to March 28. It will be conducted again in Spring 2017.

Whittier College was one of 50 colleges in the United States to participate in the HEDS survey, alongside 46 fellow private institutions. Schrock eliminated the four larger schools from the results because they were not a fair point of comparison with Whittier.

A total of 1,613 Whittier College students were emailed the survey, with a response rate of 20 percent (323 students). The respondents were primarily female-identifying (73 percent female, 25 percent male, 2 percent transgender/other gender identities) and non-white (65 percent not white, 35 percent white). Most respondents were heterosexual (77 percent, with LGBTQIA+ identities making up the other 23 percent). The class standing with the highest response rate was juniors (31 percent), and responses were from a nearly even split between residential (49 percent) and commuter (51 percent) students.

The survey was broken into four separate sections: General Campus Climate, Education and Outreach Regarding Sexual Assault, Rates of Unwanted Sexual Contact and Sexual Assault, and Nature, Context, and Reporting of Sexual Assault. The biggest disparity between Whittier College and other small private institutions was in the General Campus Climate section. 

Particularly concerning to Schrock is that less than 50 percent of the responding students felt that campus officials would support and protect the individuals making a sexual assault report, and about 55 percent of students felt that campus officials would take the report seriously. Compared to other schools, about 75 to 80 percent of students responded that they felt they would be supported and taken seriously. 

Whittier College students also reported low when asked about their treatment from faculty, staff, and administrators. At other institutions, between 80-90 percent of students felt that they respected student’s perspectives and were genuinely concerned about their welfare, whereas just over half of Whittier College students felt respected by the faculty, staff, and administration. 

The most notable finding from the General Campus Climate portion of the survey, was that less than 40 percent of Whittier College students reported that they feel safe on campus. This result, while disturbing, could likely be linked to a number of public events that occurred just before the survey was sent out. 

On Jan. 20, a public physical assault occurred in the residence halls. A few weeks later, on Feb. 12, a student passed away. Two days after that, students were notified via campus email and text message that a potentially armed individual was wandering the campus, leading to a campus lockdown. Since the HEDS survey was sent out on Feb.16, two days after the lockdown, Schrock suspects that all of the incidents had a big impact on the results.

However, the survey did find that 80 percent of Whittier College students reported high level of concern for the welfare of other students, whereas 60 percent of students surveyed at other colleges reported a high level of concern. 

In the other sections of the survey, Whittier College’s data was comparable to the 46 other small schools, with no glaring differences in results. Rates of sexual assault, recognizing sexual assault, and knowing how to prevent and report on the Whittier College’s campus are no lower or higher than similar institutions. 

Even though Schrock is leaving Whittier College at the end of the Fall 2016 semester, she has made great strides to make the campus a safer place for survivors of sexual assault. Upon receiving the results of the survey, the Title IX Committee, the Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, and President Herzberger met to discuss their next steps with regards to the results. 

Their action plan includes immediate changes to how information is presented to students regarding sexual assault reporting, meeting with groups such as ASWC Senate, the Quaker Campus, and the LGBTQIA+ Committee to discuss the results, and conducting focus groups to interpret them. After meeting with focus groups, the survey will be repeated in Spring 2017.