Last week, Brigham Young University released the results of its Campus Climate Survey, designed to gauge student safety and assess the “climate” concerning sexual assault. There’s no silver lining in recent reports of sexual assaults at Utah universities, but transparency from local schools regarding their survey results is a positive step that will hopefully lead to accountability for continued campuswide improvements.
When BYU’s President Kevin J. Worthen personally committed that BYU would conduct a careful review of its policies on the reporting of sexual misconduct, some were skeptical about the depth of the review or about the level of candor that might result from a private, religious school. Yet its recently published report on sexual assault is candid and thorough.
Now comes the hard work of improving areas of the campus climate with regard to training and reporting. BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which also owns this paper. With an honor code that prohibits, among other things, alcohol, drugs and premarital sexual relations, the university has already taken action to ensure that students who report sexual assaults are provided amnesty from an Honor Code inquiry.
BYU also conducted a Campus Climate Survey.
Along with BYU, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Utah Valley University have each conducted Campus Climate Surveys on sexual misconduct and have released results with varying levels of data.
BYU’s level of student participation, along with the administration’s decision to publish the results and implement best practices in crafting the survey, represents an admirable standard for higher education amidst its ongoing efforts to better diagnose and address issues surrounding sexual assault.
BYU must now grapple with the survey results themselves. While most students feel safe, the survey results suggest that more can be done to educate students about reporting sexual assaults. Meanwhile, BYU’s relatively high survey participation rate — 43 percent of students surveyed— is above that of most colleges, according to Brown University’s Lindsay Orchowski.
"The large number of students who participated in the survey lends confidence to the findings, and also speaks to the openness of the student community to address these issues," Orchowski said in an interview with BYU.
The methodology from school to school differs, and therefore direct comparisons aren't instructive. But at Utah State University reports indicate that 36 percent of students surveyed responded. Participant response rates hovered around 10 and 15 percent at Utah Valley University and University of Utah, respectively.
At BYU, some 94 percent of students surveyed agree or strongly agree that sexual harassment is not tolerated on campus. Fully 97 percent of students believe the school is trying hard to ensure their safety. Yet only 57 percent of survey participants agreed with the statement: "BYU is doing a good job of educating students about sexual assault." Even fewer felt they had an adequate grasp of how to report a sexual assault or an awareness of the victim services available.
BYU’s report states that providing for the safety and well-being of its students — and the proper handling of sexual misconduct reporting — is fundamental to the successful attainment of the institutional mission of the school. Releasing data to the public demonstrates that it is willing to be held accountable to that standard. The internal review that Worthen initiated, resulted in the announcement of 23 changes that would be made in the policies and procedures related to the handling of sexual-assault reporting.
It is encouraging that BYU and other higher-education institutions in the Beehive State are confronting this issue. Results show that more students at Utah’s campuses need to know where and how to report sexual assault. That will take effort, including trainings as well as campuswide cultural shifts toward prevention and reporting.
There is nothing to applaud about campus sexual assault or misconduct, but recent efforts at BYU and elsewhere are important steps to further identify problems and work toward solutions that can make Utah’s college campuses safer environments for students to learn.