October 29, 2019

Administrators Address Results of Climate Survey at Community Conversation

The University has faced criticism over its response to a survey report detailing high rates of sexual assault and misconduct, especially in University dorms and fraternity houses. Student Government executives said that a meeting to discuss the results was held at a time when many were unable to attend, and criticized the length of the report.

University administrators addressed the results of the Campus Climate Survey, released two weeks ago, at a “Community Conversation” on October 21. Sociology professor Kate Cagney, who chairs the Faculty Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing the survey’s results, led the meeting.

More than 20 members of the University community attended the meeting and took part in a Q&A session that followed.

The 132-page report shows that almost 40 percent of University of Chicago students have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment. Findings show that 13 percent of students reported being victims of nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent.

33 institutions participated in the survey, which was conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU). At the University of Chicago, 32 percent of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students responded.

The University conducted a similar campus climate survey in 2015, which found that more than half of undergraduate women and one in five undergraduate men had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. Since then, the University has taken steps to address issues of sexual assault on campus, including establishing the Office for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Support and redesigning sexual assault and misconduct training for first-year students.

In an e-mail announcing the survey results, Provost Daniel Diermeier called the results of the survey “deeply troubling.”

At the Community Conversation, Cagney asked Bridget Collier, the University’s Title IX coordinator, to comment on the finding that 82 percent of women and 80 percent of men who were victims of nonconsensual sexual contact reported telling a friend about their experience, while only 15 percent reported incidents to University programs or resources.

“I think that’s important information for my office in terms of how we provide information to individuals who are the friend [of a victim],” Collier said, calling the relatively low rate of reporting to a program or resource “concerning.”

“What I’ve seen in the past three years in the office is [that] our reporting rates continue to go up in my office, but [are] clearly not keeping up with the prevalence rates,” she said.

The survey also analyzed locations where sexual misconduct is most likely to occur. University residence halls were the most common, followed by fraternity houses, which, according to the survey, were also the most common place for women to experience nonconsensual sexual touching.

The University of Chicago does not recognize fraternities as university-affiliated organizations, and does not oversee or regulate their activities.

On the same day that the report was released, The Maroon reported that the University of Chicago Panhellenic Council had suspended all events with Sigma Chi following allegations that “several dangerous instances involving date-rape drugs” occurred during the fraternity’s O-Week parties, according to a document distributed to sorority members.

In response to these revelations and to the report, the CARE Executive Slate, which leads Student Government (SG), wrote that “the time is now to hold fraternities accountable and recognize their influence on campus.”

At the Community Conversation, fourth-year Andy Hatem asked why the University does not recognize the fraternities nor take steps to enforce safety on their premises.

Collier said that she is “not in a position to answer” the whole question but stressed the importance of collecting more data to better understand the relationship between Greek life and sexual misconduct.

“I think we’d want to know more in terms of where the precipitating events started and where they ended,” she said, adding that comparing the University’s data with that of peer institutions that recognize fraternities would be a potentially fruitful area for future analysis.

The survey also found that prevalence of sexual assault is much higher among undergraduate women and TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, questioning or not listed) students than among their male counterparts. Non-heterosexual students, the report says, are also more likely to be victims of sexual assault than other students.

During the Q&A period, one student asked about how the University plans to address the high rates of sexual misconduct faced by LGBTQ students.

“Obviously, those are more vulnerable populations within our community,” Collier said. “We need to think about how we’re communicating with those populations. Where are they accessing support, if it’s not on campus? There’s opportunities with community agencies where we are looking to develop some partnerships where they have deep expertise in supporting those communities.”

Cagney said that TGQN students and those with disabilities “are places where we would want to focus our additional analyses.”

Multiple attendees raised concerns over the timing of the Community Conversation, which was held at noon on a Monday, when many students and faculty might be unable to attend.

University staff declined to make the slides from the presentation accessible to students following the meeting or to share them with The Maroon, citing the importance of providing appropriate context for the data.

Attendees were told that student organizations could reach out to the administration in order to arrange another presentation.

In a statement sent to The Maroon, the CARE Executive Slate criticized the length of the survey results and the inaccessibility of the community meeting.

“For comparison's sake, the climate survey on race released 3 years ago was only 40 pages, [and] included more graphs that breakdown the information in a more consumable form,” CARE said. “We do appreciate the breakdowns that the results showed. Being able to pinpoint the racial and gender breakdown of survivors is helpful in having an intersectional and comprehensive approach in sexual misconduct prevention and in addressing post-incident trauma.”

CARE also told The Maroon that addressing sexual assault and misconduct in Greek life should be a priority for the University.

“It is imperative that the University recognize fraternities and start to hold them accountable for their heinous actions.”

In light of the results, the SG Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Committee (SAAP) told The Maroon it will work to have more targeted outreach for students, which includes having events and materials that center on the experiences of queer students and women of color.

The Committee will host a town hall event on Wednesday, October 30 to discuss the survey results and answer student questions.

The Committee will also debut a collaboration with Porchlight Counseling Services, an organization that offers free counseling for college students who are survivors of sexual assault.