Understanding the Climate Survey

As part of its work, William & Mary's Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment conducted a campus climate survey.

The survey, developed by an outside vendor, eduOutcomes, was distributed to every enrolled student – graduate and undergraduate – at William & Mary in October 2014. William & Mary is the first Virginia institution – and one of few nationally – to both collect and disseminate campus climate survey data related to sexual assault. A total of 2,660 undergraduate and graduate students – about 32 percent of the population – responded to the survey, which asked about personal experiences and observed behavior of fellow students and W&M employees since enrolling at the university. The survey also inquired about Title IX awareness, the grievance process and campus climate.

Although the survey provided a lot of information on many aspects of sexual assault at William & Mary, it is important to understand the instrument, including its limitations. The following is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the climate survey.

Read the full survey report (pdf).

Frequently Asked Questions
Why did the Task Force conduct a climate survey?

It was critical that the committee's recommendations were grounded in a clearer understanding of students' experiences. Although the survey instrument did not capture everything the task force wanted to learn, members decided to move ahead with administering it because the timing (early fall 2014) allowed the group to collect some meaningful data very early in their review process. That data was used to inform recommendations. (back to top)

How will you use the data gathered?

Results of the survey directly influenced the many recommendations put forward by the task force and its subcommittees. For example, survey data showed that many students were unaware of what to do or where to go to report an incident of sexual misconduct. Expanded communication and outreach efforts this fall – campus-wide poster campaign, expanded orientation programs, an enhanced website – are efforts to respond to that data. Because survey data showed that fraternity and sorority members experience sexual assault and harassment at rates higher than non-affiliated students, members of the task force will be meeting with chapter members and their advisors this month to discuss the climate survey results and ways to promote safety and bystander intervention through their organizational cultures. Discussion will also focus on how best to support their sisters and brothers who have experienced sexual assault/harassment. (back to top)

What were some of the limitations?

The survey did not ask about the role of alcohol in instances of experienced or observed sexual misconduct. It also did not ask about class year, sexual orientation or citizenship status. And the survey asked very little about the circumstances under which sexual harassment and assault occur. Because the survey was designed by an outside group, W&M was not at liberty to modify the questions. (back to top)

How do these data compare to rates of sexual assault nationally? 

We really can't compare those figures to W&M's data in a meaningful way. Until we have a survey that is used uniformly by colleges across the country, it will be very difficult to compare ourselves to other institutions or to national benchmarks. The commonly cited statistics – 1-in-5 undergrad women will experience sexual assault while in college (from the U.S. Department of Justice), 1-in-4 college women have experienced rape or attempted rape since their 14th birthday (from the 1985 Koss study) – rely on different questions and different definitions of rape and sexual assault. (back to top)

How does W&M compare to other institutions?

W&M did not conduct this survey to see how we compared to other schools. It was an internal effort intended to help the task force understand the nature and extent of the problem at W&M. No matter where our rates stand in relation to other institutions', it is clear that sexual misconduct happens too frequently at W&M. The only acceptable rate is zero. (back to top)

Why use the term "sexual misconduct" instead of calling it rape?

Rape is one specific form of sexual misconduct. This survey – and W&M's policies – cover a much broader array of inappropriate behaviors, including unwanted sexual comments, touching and sexual exposure, among others. (back to top)

How can you draw any meaningful conclusions from a survey that was completed by only a third of the student body?

On all demographic variables that we could test, the respondents mirrored the actual student population very well. This allows us to have even more confidence in the accuracy of the results.

32% is considered a good response for survey research in the social sciences. It is also a fairly typical response rate for student surveys at W&M. Even using the actual completion rate (which is lower – 27%), the response rate translates to a margin of error of less than 2 percentage points (+/-). (back to top)

2% of respondents reported being raped. Does this mean 2% of the student body, or 165 people, have been raped at W&M?

The only thing we can say with absolute certainty is that 2% of the survey respondents told us they had been raped. Whether that statistic holds true for the entire student body depends on how representative the respondents were of the student population as a whole. If people who experienced assault were more or less motivated to complete the survey, the results could be skewed.

And it is important to remember that when talking about a number like 2%, even a good margin of error can have a large impact. The margin of error for this survey was +/- 1.8%. That means the true percentage of students who've experienced rape most likely falls somewhere between 0.2% and 3.8%. According to those percentages, the actual number of rape victims at W&M could be as low as 17 and as high as 315. (back to top)

Given the high rate of assault among LGBT-identified people nationally, why doesn’t the survey report address that?

The survey was designed by a company called eduOutcomes, not by W&M. We were not at liberty to change the design of the survey or the wording of questions. Since the survey didn't include a question about sexual orientation, our report could not address the incidence of sexual misconduct among LGB-identified students. The report does include data on trans-identified students. (back to top)

When will you administer this eduOutcomes survey again?

Given the known limitations of the instrument, we do not have plans to administer this particular survey again, though a systematic plan for on-going climate assessment is essential. At some point in the near future we hope to have information about and access to an instrument that will be used widely to assess campus climates related to sexual assault and relationship violence. Such an instrument does not yet exist, though several are being piloted this year at institutions across the country. We note in the report several limitations we found with the eduOutcomes instrument – this information will help us with choosing/developing instruments for the future. We are especially encouraged that the Virginia Governor's Task Force on Combating Campus Sexual Violence has recommended that "a uniform campus climate survey to be administered once every two years by each institution during the fall semester." Once institutions are systematically administering a common survey, we will be in a better position to examine our own W&M data over time, as well as to compare data across and among institutions. (back to top)