Survey sheds light on students’ attitudes, experiences on sexual misconduct

April 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State today (April 13) released the results of a comprehensive University-wide survey of students’ experiences with and attitudes about sexual misconduct including the finding that 18.1 percent of undergraduates and 6.7 percent of graduate students at University Park reported being the victim of at least one instance or attempt of sexual assault.

The Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, conducted last fall, is part of a broad-based initiative by the University to significantly curtail sexual misconduct on all of its campuses, while at the same time expanding its efforts to ensure an effective response to cases that do arise. The survey asked students about their experiences, as well as about their attitudes and awareness of the resources available for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.

“We are grateful to the students who took the time to complete this survey. Their responses are invaluable to us as we continue to build on the resources we already have to respond to and help end sexual misconduct on all of our campuses. As a community, we have no tolerance for sexual abuse or harassment of any kind, and Penn State is committed to being a national leader when it comes to fighting these unacceptable behaviors,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “We have to continue to create a climate that has no room for sexual assault or harassment and instead is safe, supportive and caring. This survey points to areas where we are already making an impact and areas where can focus our energy to make that possible.”

The survey was completed by a representative sample of 9,427 students University-wide, including both undergraduates and graduate students at 23 of the University’s 24 locations. At University Park, 11,023 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students received the survey, and the response rate at University Park was nearly 27 percent among undergraduates and almost 41 percent among graduate students.

Completely anonymous, voluntary and completed electronically, the survey covered a range of topics from whether a student thinks the University would take a report of sexual misconduct seriously to whether the student is aware of resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services. Among the findings at University Park are that 76.4 percent of undergraduates and a little more than 75 percent of graduate students believe the University would take a report of sexual misconduct seriously.

Implementing a campus climate survey was one of 18 recommendations made by the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, which Barron appointed in 2014 to study the University’s resources for addressing sexual misconduct. The task force also was charged with making recommendations for areas to expand and ways to reach out to students and the community. Many of those recommendations have already been enacted, including the creation of a Title IX office and the implementation of bystander intervention training that provides community members with tools to step in and defuse problematic situations.

Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, who led the task force, said by surveying a cross-section of students from Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth, the University is able to gain a detailed understanding of a complex issue.

“It is easy to oversimplify what are actually complex human relations, and that is certainly true of sexual assault or harassment. But one thing that cannot be oversimplified is Penn State's deep and sincere commitment to do all it reasonably can to prevent sexual misconduct among students wherever it may occur,” Sims said. “We will continue to respond effectively to all reports of sexual assault or harassment, promising fundamental fairness in our processes, and providing support whenever our support is required."

“The data gleaned from this important survey will guide our actions as we work in partnership with students to educate them about these issues and encourage improved outcomes for all. It is pleasing that a clear majority of our students already recognizes that the University takes reports of sexual misconduct seriously. We now must build on that confidence by pursuing programs and services that answer student needs, and we must call upon students to join us in these efforts. In partnership with them, the University community is certain to find the improvements it seeks.”

Each of the 23 Penn State campuses where students were surveyed received a separate report related to the responses of their own campus participants. All of the reports with a summary of findings can be found online at https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/assessment/SMCS.

At University Park, Penn State leaders are encouraged to see that a large percentage of students responding to the survey indicated a significant level of trust in the University administration in handling a report of sexual misconduct.

  • 76.4 percent of undergraduates and 75.3 percent of graduate students said the University would take a report of sexual misconduct seriously;
  • 67.8 percent of undergraduates and 63 percent of graduate students said the University would handle the report fairly;

“To me, this finding in particular points to the many steps that we have taken and continue to take are having a positive effect,” Barron said. “While there are some findings that are troubling within the survey, there is reason to believe we can truly impact this issue on our campuses.”

Among other University Park findings:

  • Among undergraduates, 27.5 percent of women, 6.2 percent of men and 25.7 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer respondents said they had been the victim of at least one instance of sexual assault or attempt;
  • Among graduate students, 10.4 percent of women, 2.7 percent of men and 13 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer respondents said they had been the victim of at least one instance of sexual assault or attempt;
  • Among undergraduates who reported being victimized by at least one incident of non-consensual sexual contact, 77.5 percent said they had used alcohol or drugs just prior to the incident; 72.8 percent said the perpetrator had used alcohol or drugs just prior to the incident;
  • Among graduate students who reported being victimized by at least one incident of non-consensual sexual contact, 59.7 percent had used alcohol or drugs just prior to the incident; 58 percent said the perpetrator had used alcohol or drugs just prior to the incident;
  • 44.1 percent of undergraduates and 32 percent of graduate students said they “always” or “most of the time” walked a friend home who had too much to drink home from a party, bar or other social event if they had been a bystander in that situation.

Other survey topics included students’ perceptions about the University’s response to reports of sexual misconduct, about their friends’ attitudes about what behavior is appropriate; how safe they feel; their awareness of resources available to students; whether they had been pressured to establish an unwanted romantic or sexual relationship.

The survey itself was based on the Administration Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative (ARC3) survey, which was based on suggestions made by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Penn State’s survey was administered by the Office of Student Affairs Research and Assessment, which partnered with DatStat, a data research company the University has worked with on other survey projects.

For more information on the survey, see the Frequently Asked Questions.

  • Damon Sims

    Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims discussed some of the key points in Penn State's Campus Climate Survey results at a press conference held April 13 at the HUB-Robeson Center.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 19, 2017