New data released today provides valuable insights about Michigan State University’s climate, the incidence of relationship violence and sexual misconduct and the impact of recent improvements made across campus on these critical issues.
The Know More @ MSU campuswide survey was launched in March and led by the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup.
“We needed a comprehensive assessment of the climate at MSU for students, faculty and staff,” said Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology and adviser to the president on RVSM issues. “MSU has never done a truly campuswide survey on relationship violence and sexual misconduct, and we needed to hear from our community about their experiences, concerns and ideas for changing the culture at MSU.”
The survey invited all undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff to participate in a web-based survey. The data was collected and then analyzed by RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research organization that contracted with MSU. The results will be used in MSU’s ongoing effort to foster a safe and inclusive campus.
“Understanding the problems that our campus members face and creating solutions to making our environment safe are important as we work to change our culture around these issues,” said MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “This new base of knowledge will guide us in creating our strategic plan going forward.”
With more than 15,000 responses from students, faculty and staff, the survey focused on four areas: RVSM prevalence and incidents, the impact of RVSM resources, campus climate and workplace incivility.
Per the report, undergraduate students experience high rates of sexual harassment, both male and female. In addition, faculty and staff of all genders experienced some form of workplace incivility throughout their careers at MSU.
The report showed that traditionally marginalized community members were more likely to respond that they had experienced some form of sexual or relationship violence. These marginalized populations include women, people with disabilities, bisexual people and transgender people.
“MSU has a significant number of community members who are experiencing relationship violence and sexual misconduct, and these experiences are upsetting and interfere with their school, work and relationships,” said Carrie Moylan, assistant professor of social work and RVSM Workgroup member who led this survey effort. “We need to create a culture that supports their health, well-being and recovery.”
The most positive dimensions of climate were survey participants’ connectedness to MSU and their awareness of school sexual assault policy and resources. The most negative dimension of climate was related to general perceptions of the highest administrative leadership at the school.
The RVSM workgroup will host a series of discussion hours with community members and organizations on campus to further discuss the results of the survey, answer questions and speak with members of the MSU community about their ideas for changing the campus culture. The feedback collected from these meetings, along with meetings leadership held with survivors, will be used to inform a strategic plan for prevention efforts, policy updates and resource development.
To listen to a podcast on the survey results featuring Campbell and Moylan, click here.
Sexual harassment was the most prevalent type of victimization students experienced. Nearly two-thirds of undergraduate women, half of women graduate/professional students, 42.2% of undergraduate men and 32.4% of men graduate/professional students experienced sexual harassment in the 2018-19 academic year.
About 13% of undergraduate women, 3.5% of undergraduate men, 3.7% of women graduate/professional students and 1.5% of men graduate professional students experienced sexual assault in the 2018-19 academic year.
When considering longer-term experiences, over a quarter of undergraduate women had experienced sexual assault since enrolling at MSU (27.3%). This estimate was 8.5% for undergraduate men, 12% for women graduate/professional students and 2.6% for men graduate/professional students. The lifetime sexual assault rate was 41.4% for women graduate/professional students and 38.9% for undergraduate women.
The majority of faculty and staff (of all genders) experienced at least some workplace incivility. The most common types were that a supervisor or coworker paid little attention to their statements or showed little interest in their opinions, interrupted or “spoke over” them or doubted their judgment on a matter for which they were responsible.
The prevalence of work-related sexual harassment was 18.7% for women faculty, 9.3% for men faculty, 17.6% for women staff, and 15.1% for men staff. The most common types of sexual harassment were: someone referring to people of one’s gender in insulting or offensive terms (particularly for women faculty), someone making inappropriate or offensive comments about the person’s or someone else’s body, appearance or sexual activities and someone making sexual remarks or telling jokes or stories that were insulting to the person. Very few faculty or staff experienced “quid pro quo” harassment, such as someone promising them better treatment or implying favors if they engaged in sexual contact (or implying/threatening worse treatment if they refused it).
Across the dimensions of climate explored in the study, undergraduate men and faculty men reported the most positive perceptions of climate, whereas women graduate/professional students and faculty women had the most negative perceptions of climate.
Awareness of MSU-specific resources and programs related to relationship violence and sexual misconduct was fairly high, and the majority of undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, and faculty and staff indicated that they had received training on a number of specific topics (e.g., the legal definitions of sexual assault, obtaining consent). Survey participants perceived online training as less helpful than the in-person training in which they participated.
Comparison to other schools
In 2015, RTI conducted the Campus Climate Survey Validation Study (CCSVS) at nine diverse institutions of higher education using very similar question wording and survey methodology. The prevalence rate for sexual assault that undergraduate women experienced during the current academic year, averaged across the nine participating schools (and for more than 15,000 undergraduate women), was 10.3%; this estimate ranged from 4.2% to 20% across the schools. The comparable rate at MSU was 13%. The “since entering college” rate in the CCSVS for undergraduate women was 21% (ranging from 12% to 38% across the participating schools), compared to 27% at MSU. The lifetime prevalence estimate in the CCSVS was 34% (ranging from 26% to 46% across the participating schools), compared to 39% at MSU.
This comparison suggests that, among undergraduate women, MSU students experience sexual assault at a level that is within range of the levels found among the nine institutions that participated in the CCSVS. Among students who experienced sexual assault at MSU during the 2018-19 academic year, disclosure or help-seeking to an MSU office or program was fairly high relative to the schools that participated in the CCSVS. For example, in the CCSVS, 12.5% of rape incidents and 4.3% of sexual battery incidents that undergraduate women experienced were disclosed to any official, which included
- administrators, faculty, or other officials or staff at the school;
- a crisis center or helpline, or a hospital or health care center at the school;
- a crisis center or helpline, or a hospital or health care center not at the school;
- campus police or security; or
- local police not at the school, such as the county or city police department.
In the 2019 Know More survey, for about 20% of rape incidents and 4.6% of sexual battery incidents that undergraduate women experienced, the student disclosed the incident to or sought services from an MSU office. Generally, higher reporting rates are considered positive because it means that more survivors are reaching out, learning about their options and getting connected to other services.
To view the full survey results please visit civilrights.msu.edu/knowmore.