A new sexual assault climate survey shows that just over 8 percent of Case Western Reserve students consider sexual assault “very much or extremely problematic” on their campus—a figure less than half the average reported among 150,000 students at 27 of the country’s top universities.

Nevertheless, the survey also showed that nearly two thirds of the university’s undergraduate women reported experiencing sexual harassment during their time on campus, a figure slightly higher than the overall average.

That said, more than 60 percent of Case Western Reserve respondents said “students would support the individual making the report,” and more than 68 percent said “the report would be taken seriously by campus officials.” In both instances, the figures topped the survey’s aggregate averages by about 5 percentage points.

“These results provide invaluable information for us in terms of evaluating our efforts to date and identifying areas most in need of improvement,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark. “While any misconduct that our students suffer is regrettable, we do feel that the data show we have raised awareness of the issue and the university’s commitment to address it.”

During the 2014-2015 school year the Association of American Universities (AAU) contracted with Westat, a global social science research firm, to develop the survey in collaboration with leading sexual assault and harassment experts across higher education. The surveys were administered during April and May; Case Western Reserve’s overall response rate was nearly 30 percent (the AAU average was 19.3 percent), while its response rate among undergraduate women was nearly 43 percent (the AAU average was 17.4 percent).

The AAU includes Ivy League institutions, leading land-grant campuses, and private universities such as CalTech, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, MIT and Washington University in St. Louis. Dartmouth College, which is not a member of the AAU, also participated in the survey.

In 2013, Case Western Reserve was among hundreds of institutions across the country that revamped its policies involving sexual assault and harassment in response to guidance from federal education officials. During the 2013-2014 academic year, campus leaders shared the interim policy with campus constituents and adjusted its terms in response to feedback. The university again updated the policy in 2015 after experience with the existing policy, additional feedback and federal clarification of select points. In addition, for the past two years, incoming first-year students have participated in an online module and in-person education regarding sexual misconduct, including guidance regarding ways that bystanders can intervene constructively when needed.

As part of initiatives to enhance the university’s programs in this regard, the university named its first associate vice president/Title IX this summer. In addition to ongoing meetings with students, faculty and staff, Darnell Parker also is working with Director of Institutional Research Jean Gubbins to delve more deeply into the results to discern specific aspects and trends at a granular level.

“Our efforts to educate and inform will never be complete,” Parker said. “Now that we have more precise insight from the campus, however, we can focus in more targeted ways to address areas of concern.”

Among other topics the survey covered were the proportion of undergraduate women who reported:

  • attempted or completed penetration by physical force or incapacitation (CWRU, 9.6 percent; AAU, 10.8 percent);
  • nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by physical force or incapacitation (CWRU, 20.0 percent; AAU, 23.1 percent);
  • intimate partner violence, i.e. control, threats or physical force (CWRU, 12.9 percent; AAU, 12.8 percent).

In addition, nearly 6 percent of undergraduate men at Case Western Reserve reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by physical force or incapacitation, a figure half a percentage point higher than the national average. For male graduate or professional students on this campus, the figure was 1.1 percent, half the AAU average.

Members of the campus community with active university IDs and passwords can download the entire Case Western Reserve report at case.edu/climatesurvey/cwru-results-2015.pdf.