Penn State preparing to launch University-wide student survey on campus climate

August 28, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is planning to launch a University-wide survey of students this semester to better understand their views, experiences and knowledge of resources related to sexual assault and sexual harassment. The results will provide valuable insight into students’ perceptions that will help guide the University’s ongoing initiative to combat sexual violence.

The survey will be sent electronically to students at all Penn State locations, including approximately 10,000 undergraduates at University Park, along with 2,000-3,000 graduate students, and about 1,500 students at each of the larger campuses. At smaller campuses, it will be sent to all students. 

Students at the larger campuses will be randomly selected to help ensure that a representative sample of the population participates. All students’ responses will be anonymous.

Andrea Dowhower, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, said the survey will help the University gain a better understanding of the problems and tailor its responses to best address them.

“We know sexual violence is a concern on our campuses. But understanding the scope of that is very difficult because of the nature of these incidents,” Dowhower said. “The better the response to the survey, the greater the understanding of the scope, size and locations of the problems so our educational efforts and interventions can be fine-tuned to where we see the most egregious issues.”

The survey will ask students questions about their personal experiences, their perceptions and the behavior of bystanders. It is expected to provide insight into a number of areas, including the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, how comfortable people feel reporting incidents and the role of alcohol.

Adam Christensen, director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment, said the survey will help the University know what steps can be taken to increase students’ knowledge of the resources available and significantly decrease the amount of sexual misconduct.

“This is a way to get more accurate numbers than what is reported and, in doing so, get a better understanding of what the prevalence is on our campuses. Understanding our students’ experiences is important because it will help us improve those experiences,” he said.

Christensen, who is overseeing implementation of the survey, pointed out that the survey also will cover broader issues that are relevant to all students.

“It’s really important that we get a good representative sample,” Christensen said. “We need to hear from all students regardless of what their experiences are. The survey will ask general questions about the University’s climate, students’ knowledge of resources and campus safety.”

The survey was piloted in the spring at University Park, three Commonwealth Campuses and Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. Christensen said it provided useful ideas for improving the survey.

“We got some thoughtful feedback from students, and we’ll be using that as we decide exactly what the final version of the survey will include,” Christensen said.

It will be administered in a way similar to how the Penn State Student Experience Survey, launched in spring 2014, was conducted, including offering incentives such as entering students who complete the survey in a raffle. However, students’ responses to the survey will remain anonymous, and the names of those who complete the survey won’t be associated with their answers.

The survey is one part of the University’s multi-pronged approach to creating safe campus climates. It follows a report earlier this year from the University’s Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment along with 18 recommendations, which President Eric Barron accepted.

Other initiatives include using an investigative model when responding to sexual misconduct; implementing bystander intervention training; creating a new Title IX coordinator position and office; and ensuring there are the needed resources to carry out the task force recommendations at all Penn State locations.

  • Adam Christensen-Student Affairs

    Adam Christensen, Penn State Student Affairs.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell
Last Updated April 19, 2017