After the University distributed a survey to students earlier this month to gauge campus climate around sexual misconduct, some students have expressed concerns with the terminology used in the survey.
The survey is administered by the Association of American Universities. Twenty-eight public and private research universities employed the survey, making it one of the largest surveys on this issue.
“Our primary purpose in conducting this survey is to help our institutions gain a better understanding of this complex problem on their own campuses as well as nationally,” AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in a press release. “Our first priority, and theirs, is to ensure that students not only are safe but feel safe. Universities will be using their data to inform their own policies and practices regarding sexual assault.”
However, some University students said they stopped taking or were advised by friends against taking the AAU survey due to triggering imagery and wording.
LSA junior Fabiana Diaz, who said she is survivor of sexual assault, received a warning not to take the survey from a friend due to graphic scenarios that could be triggering for her.
“I was upset because I think more importantly than other students, it needs the voice of the survivors in order for something to actually be done on our campus,” Diaz said.
The survey asks students a variety of questions regarding to their experiences with campus sexual assault, knowledge of prevention and available resources.
The survey is separated into lettered sections, each asking about a particular aspect of a student’s experience with sexual misconduct. In some sections, the survey asks for detailed accounts of one’s experience if they had been assaulted, and suggests scenarios that could have happened. If the respondent answers affirmativly, the survey then asks questions regarding how many times the assault occurred and of what relation the perpetrator was to the respondent. The survey also asks about drug and alcohol use during the time of possible instances of sexual misconduct.
A FAQ regarding the survey written by the University’s Office of Public Affairs says the survey asked about sensitive topics to foster a safe environment.
“It is only by directly collecting this information from students will we be able to prevent negative experiences and effectively respond when they do happen,” the FAQ says.
The survey begins with a disclaimer that reads, “Some of the language used in this survey is explicit and some people may find it uncomfortable, but it is important that we ask the questions in this way so that you are clear what we mean. Information on how to get help, if you need it, appears on the bottom of each page and at the end of the survey.”
However, Diaz believes the trigger warning included in the survey was not enough, and said the survey data is skewed and ineffective when it cannot include the voice and experiences of survivors who may not feel comfortable taking the survey.
“I think it is bringing a huge divide among administration and survivors, because it is blatantly disrespectful and very triggering to us,” she said.
In a statement, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said national experts on the topic of campus sexual assault, as well as experts in survey design and methodology, helped craft AAU survey questions
“Some of the language used in the AAU survey is explicit and some may find it uncomfortable, but it is important that the questions are posed in this way so that students are clear about the meaning, and to collect the best possible data,” he wrote in a statement.
Fitzgerald stated the University had no input in the exact language the survey used, yet chose to administer the survey to gather data to promote a “healthy, safe and non discriminatory” environment. He also stated each page contains support resources and information to get help.
LSA senior Hannah Crisler, director of the I Will campaign, said she also felt uncomfortable with the questions. Crisler said the graphic content and explicit descriptions were unwarranted without appropriate warning.
She particularly felt by titling the survey one on “campus climate,” as she said it made the survey ambiguous and did not provide an adequate representation to the survey takers.
“I think that if someone is going to take that survey, it’s definitely triggering,” she said. “If something did happen to you and you are truthfully answering the survey, then you are reopening a wound that was not explicitly chosen before hand.”
Crisler said she began to take the survey, but stopped due to anxiety.
LSA junior Connie Gao, president for the University’s Students for Choice chapter, said she disliked the experience of taking the survey as well.
Gao said she felt specifically asking about each separate instance of an individual’s experience with sexual assault is not necessarily addressing campus climate.
“There could have been ways to administer the survey that did more adequately address campus climate,” she said.
LSA junior Anna Forringer-Beal, SAPAC student co-coordinator, said she understands how students would feel triggered by the explicit questions, but said she believes the survey is an important step in gathering data on the issue. She said the explicit language was necessary to get the most precise information.
“It’s difficult for me, speaking individually, because I always want to put the survivor first, but I know as somebody who does social science research, a lot of people won’t listen to you unless you have the numbers to back it up,” Forringer-Beal said.
However, she said she would have liked to see the trigger warning made more clear and explicit before the survey.
Diaz echoed Forringer-Beal’s sentiment, saying she believed the University was right to seek out ways to gather more information on campus sexual assault, though she did not like how the survey was potentially inaccessible to survivors.
“I think it raises awareness of some sort, and then it also says that the University is taking it seriously, but I think it’s all very surface level,” she said.