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Dec. 3, 2019

Carrie Moylan: Survey results as a vehicle for change

Dec. 4, 2019

Carrie Moylan is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and is a member of MSU’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup. She played a key role in administering a recent campus survey at MSU on RVSM issues.

The results of the KNOW MORE @ MSU Campus Climate Survey document the high prevalence of sexual harassment and assault on MSU’s campus. Collected and analyzed by an external, nonprofit research firm, the results from 15,000 students, staff and faculty provide valuable insights into the climate at our university.

While the rates of sexual harassment and assault have gotten the most media attention since the survey’s release last month, there are some findings that I think are equally important for us to tackle as a university. For example, while 12.9% of undergraduate women experienced sexual assault in the 2018-2019 academic year, 14.9% experienced intimate partner violence.

MSU has the nation’s first and only campus-based domestic violence shelter (MSU Safe Place), but the prevalence of intimate partner violence in the survey suggests MSU may need to invest more resources into supporting survivors of intimate partner violence.

Nearly 40% of undergraduate women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, many before ever stepping foot on MSU’s campus. While faculty and staff experiences of sexual harassment are less common than among students, faculty and staff report more fear and concern about their career prospects if they reach out for help. With this new data, additional questions come to mind: Does MSU adequately support the well-being of survivors of all genders who are coping with the devastating effects of previous victimization while they are on campus? How can MSU make it safer for faculty and staff to report sexual harassment and pursue safe work environments? 

Overall, students, staff and faculty report a sense of connectedness and inclusiveness on campus, but not everyone feels like they belong or experiences our community as inclusive.  Transgender, nonbinary and bisexual members of the community experienced higher rates of sexual harassment and assault, as did those with disabilities.

Black faculty and staff were more likely to say that experiences of workplace incivility (which research shows is linked to higher rates of sexual harassment) were linked to their race. When a community is not inclusive, are those with marginalized identities at greater risk of experiencing sexual misconduct and mistreatment? And do those who feel they don’t belong have trust that the university will support them if they reach out for assistance?

While this survey has been in the works for 18 months, the release of the survey data is just the beginning of a process of using the data to inform the next steps for improving the climate, preventing relationship violence and sexual misconduct and responding to incidents that occur. I’ve highlighted a few findings that I hope will spark further conversation at MSU.

Over the coming months, members of the RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup, President Stanley’s special advisers on RVSM issues and members of the Sexual Violence Advisory Council will engage with members of our community to discuss the report and solicit ideas for next steps.  We invite everyone to come to the public lunch Q&A sessions or reach out to us directly to share your thoughts.