Student leaders speak out on AAU survey

Over one-third of MU senior women have experienced unwanted sexual contact while at MU.
RHA President Billy Donley and Vice President Rachel Thomas pose for a portrait at the Francis Quadrangle in Columbia, Mo. Courtesy of Billy Donley

New results from a campus climate survey from the Association of American Universities concerning sexual assault have prompted a strong response from many MU student leaders.

The Campus Climate Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct Survey found that 30.8 percent of senior women at MU reported that they were victims of nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation either from drugs or alcohol. When the tactics of coercion, absence of affirmative consent and attempted sexual contact were considered, the number jumped to 38.3 percent of senior women.

“The fact that an estimated 30.8 percent of our senior female students say that since they entered MU, they have been victims of some kind of unwanted sexual conduct is very disturbing to me,” Provost Garnett Stokes said in a statement. “These results show us that we still have much work to do … I will not be satisfied until no acts of sexual misconduct of any kind are committed at MU.”

MU’s results are 5 percentage points higher than the national average. Nationally, 33.1 percent of senior female undergraduates have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact through any of the four possible tactics.

“This survey puts the issue in a national context that reinforces how important it is for Mizzou to be a leader in eliminating sexual misconduct wherever it occurs,” Interfraternity Council Vice President of Public Relations Parker Briden said in an email. “As always, Mizzou's fraternities are eager to be a positive force for change through our educational programming. Even one instance of sexual violence on our campus is too many, and there are a lot of great leaders at our school fighting to eliminate this threat.”

Along with IFC, the Panhellenic Association, the Graduate Professional Council and the Residence Halls Association all expressed their concerns about the campus climate. The Missouri Students Association could not be reached for comment by print deadline.

Graduate students also took the survey and offered compelling feedback. Nearly 9 percent of graduate students experienced attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual contact via any of the four tactics, according to the data.

“GPC is still working on initiatives to prevent these numbers in the future,” GPC President Hallie Thompson said in an email. “Right now, we are working with the Title IX Office to communicate information to students. This would specifically focus on resources for these students and direction on how to both report and talk about in a safe space.”

Just over half of female graduate students and 34 percent of male graduate students experienced some form of sexual harassment. For graduate students, the most commonly reported offenders were faculty members, something Thompson said was “concerning.”

“This is not something that can be solved immediately, but is going to have to be addressed continually to truly change the campus culture,” Thompson said.

The survey also looked into why students chose to report or not to report. For people who reported experiencing penetrative acts involving force, 61 percent said they hadn't though the incident was "serious enough to report,” according to the breakdown of data provided by the AAU.

“Some students don’t understand that what is happening to them is important or severe enough to report,” MU Title IX Administrator Ellen Eardley said. “They don’t know that it’s a policy violation, and so our education and prevention measures need to do more to help students understand what sex discrimination really is.”

About 15 percent of MU students took the survey. The AAU average response rate was 19.3 percent — a total of 150,072 students participated. The survey, which was developed by Westat, a social science research firm, was conducted in April and May 2015 at 27 participating universities.

Eardley said she wished the response rate would’ve been higher, but she said the numbers are a good sample of the student population.

Across all 27 AAU universities, an average of 23 percent of women have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. Out of the the 21 institutions who made their results public, MU had the sixth-highest percentage of women who reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

Next Steps

The Office of Greek Life joined the Office of the Chancellor at the first-ever summit on sexual assault and student safety in fraternity houses this June.

The survey does not break down data based on students’ participation in Greek Life, athletics or other student organizations.

“I don't really believe that the AAU survey results have significance to specifically PHA,” PHA Vice President of Public Relations Carolyn Welter said in an email. “The results have no breakdown of Greek to non-Greek percentages, so the information applies to us just the same as it would any other student organization.” She also said PHA would continue its sexual violence education plan.

Stokes is forming a task force to improve education efforts, outreach and prevention of sexual discrimination on campus. While membership is still being finalized, the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center is expected to play a key role in that task force.

The task force is one component of how MU wants to improve the campus climate. Eardley encouraged students to get more involved with the various peer education programs on campus. Peer educators continue to be an important part of MU’s prevention efforts.

“I am asking the students, what are you going to do?” RHA President Billy Donley said. “I know what I'm going to do: I'm going to fight for the safety of the students. I plan on creating a safety action plan, something Rachel (Thomas) and I have been trying to create to map out our programs and actions to make this campus safer.”

Eardley is optimistic that peer-to-peer education would make a meaningful contribution toward changing MU’s campus climate.

“Students want to learn from each other about how to interrupt and stop this behavior,” Eardley said. “It empowers them to take action on our campus. I really encourage more students to get involved in that effort.”

Though disheartened by the survey results, Donley plans to use his influence as a student leader to improve campus climate.

“When you spend so much time talking about this subject and then take a step back and look at these numbers, you begin to realize that some of these numbers make up a very large portion of the students here at Mizzou,” Donley said. “As a fellow student and especially as a leader of the Residence Halls, my heart is heavy and eager to work towards a brighter future for this campus.”

Emily O’Connor contributed to this report.

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