Trigger warning: Issues of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, rape, and Title IX. Brief mention of incest and stalking.
The Communications Office provided the Quaker Campus with the unreleased 2020 Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium’s (HEDS) Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey Report, which is a self-reported survey by students and one of the measures Whittier College uses to measure sexual misconduct. In reporting on this data along with the other ways sexual misconduct is reported on campus, the Quaker Campus hopes to clarify to students how to report sexual misconduct as well as offer resources for support.
Reporting an experience of sexual misconduct can be extremely difficult and, for many, is only made possible with transparent processes and available resources. Despite there being an elevated risk of sexual violence for college-aged adults, college-aged victims have low rates of reporting sexual violence to law enforcement.
Currently, there are two annual studies that provide data on sexual misconduct that occur within the Whittier College community: the Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey and the Security and Fire Safety Report.
The Climate Survey is self-reported; students respond to questions based on their personal experiences from within the community. The Safety Report is released by Campus Safety, and it documents the number of officially reported crimes made to Whittier College Campus Safety each calendar year.
The 2020 HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey found that only 12 percent of eligible students at Whittier College participated in the survey. A low response rate has a negative effect on documenting allegations of sexual misconduct. Whittier College’s response rate lags behind other schools, though it is an issue the College’s administration is working to fix.
Whittier College students were sent four emails between February 10–March 16 of 2020 inviting them to anonymously participate in the 2020 Climate Survey. However, the administration is currently expanding its approach to issuing surveys. “One of the conversations we are having right now [. . .] is how to [. . .] get more students to participate in more surveys,” said Dean of Students Bruce Smith. So far, the College is working on different marketing strategies and discussing ways to incentivize students to participate in the survey.
HEDS Climate Survey data showed that, on Whittier’s campus, 71 percent respondents reported “never/rarely” experiencing unwanted verbal behaviors, followed by 19 percent experiencing it “sometimes,” and 10 percent experiencing it “often.”
Compared to other small colleges, Whittier had the same rate of survey respondents mark “never/ rarely” to experiencing unwanted verbal behaviors. Findings show that more students at Whittier College reported experiencing more unwanted verbal behaviors “often/very often” compared to other small institutions.
Regarding unwanted, brief, physical contact, 84 percent of respondents reported “never/rarely” experiencing this. Though, 12 percent marked that this “sometimes,” happened and the remaining 4 percent marked “often.” Fewer Whittier College survey respondents reported experiencing unwanted physical contact compared to other small schools.
86 percent of respondents to Whittier College’s HEDS Climate Survey reported not having experienced attempted sexual assault. Though, 9 percent reported that they had experienced attempted assault, while 4 percent marked “I suspect, but I’m not certain” to this question. Whittier College reported one less percent marking “yes” to experiencing attempted sexual assault and one percent more marking “no” than other schools.
For 2020, Whittier’s survey respondents reported less attempted sexual assault than is average for other colleges, though close in range. In comparison with other small institutions, Whittier College saw one percent less fewer respondents mark “yes” to experiencing attempted sexual assault.
The HEDS Climate Surveys, which the College has conducted only three times since 2016, have not been consistently published publicly or displayed on Whittier College’s website. “Prior to  there was a ‘climate’ survey but not one focused on sexual assault,” said Gary Whisenand, Associate Dean of Institutional Research and Assessment. “Currently, the plan is to administer this survey every other year.”
The most recent climate survey results that the College has published as an official report is the 2017 Climate Survey. While institutions who participate in the HEDS Climate Survey are not required to publish the statistics found in the report, some colleges choose to publish them on their website. For instance, Pomona College, with a comparable enrollment of 1,477 students, have published their 2015 and 2018 survey results on their Title IX website.
While unable to speak on why surveys from years prior to when he was Dean — have not been made public, Dean Smith said that The Gender Equity Center originally had plans to publish the 2020 survey. “We were planning on doing some number of events to share that data, but then COVID hit,” said Dean Smith. “We didn’t make a conscious decision not to share the data, [it is] just that other things happened.” With the unprecedented responsibilities of the pandemic that took center stage last Spring, the data was not formatted for publishing. There are currently no plans to publish the data from the 2020 HEDS Climate Survey in the future.
The Security and Fire Safety Report is an annually-published report that requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to report campus crimes in accordance with the Clery Act. In order to comply with this act, institutions must “disseminate a public annual security report (ASR) to employees and students every October 1st.” However, Whittier College administration has lagged on making the Safety Reports from 2019 and 2020 public on the WC website.
In each year’s report, Campus Safety details reported crimes on campus and within the College community from the previous year. For example, the 2018 report details the crimes reported from the 2017 calendar year.
The incorrectly labeled 2020 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report was recently uploaded to the WC website on March 2, 2021. Though, it was incorrectly labeled as the 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. The actual 2019 report, which should have been disseminated in October 2019 detailing crimes reported in 2018, has yet to be made public at the time of this article’s publishing.
The 2020 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report documented three reported accounts of rape, which all were reported to have occurred on campus, as documented under the subsection “Campus security report 2019.” In 2019, there were also no accounts of fondling, no accounts of incest, no accounts of statutory rape, and one account stalking that occurred on campus.
While the missing 2019 Safety Report and the correctly-labeled 2020 Safety Report have not yet been released, Dean Smith has confirmed that the reports have been conducted, and that he has reviewed them himself. He also ensured that they will be published on the Campus Safety website soon.
Dean Smith acknowledged student concerns over the College’s response to Title IX reports. “In my time at the college, issues around sexual misconduct, around the consent culture at the campus, around the college’s response to Title IX reports, [ . . . ] there has been a lot of concern around those things,” said Smith.
A recent Instagram account, Voices of Whittier College, has provided a platform for Whittier College students and alumni to anonymously share their experience with sexual misconduct on campus. For more information on Voices of Whittier College, please visit the Quaker Campus article, “Voices of Whittier College Brings Awareness to Sexual Misconduct.”
Around the time Voices of Whittier College sparked conversation across its virtual campus, Whittier College announced updates to their Title IX policy. On Feb. 17, in an email sent by Bruce Smith, called “Growing a Culture of Consent, Supporting Survivors, and Combating Sexual Misconduct,” he announced reforms to be implemented in Fall 2021. These reforms include creating peer educator roles, who will “educate fellow students about the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, the Title IX process, and standards of behavior that make up a strong consent culture on campus.” Additionally, the College announced they would increase funding for the Gender Equity Center and increase Title IX training for all employees involved in the Title IX process.
In the crime reports from the 2019 calendar year, zero reported incidents of fondling were made. However, the self-reported statistics in the 2020 HEDS report show that 16 percent of students reported experiencing unwanted physical contact “sometimes” or “often.”
These discrepancies, wherein more students unofficially document sexual misconduct anonymously than report it to officials, suggests victims are reluctant to come forward and discuss their abuse. Yet, studies have found that groping and fondling crimes can have long-term mental effects on victims, which is why historically minimized assault is important to document.
If you are a Whittier College community member looking to report a Title IX case, the Sexual Misconduct Reporting form can be filled out online here. Reports can be made anonymously. For more information on reporting, the Whittier College Sexual Misconduct Policy can be found on the WC website.
Moving forward, administrators are focusing on making the reporting process both accessible, transparent, and survivor-centric. “We want the process to respond to survivors, rather than the other way around,” said Dean Smith. “We want the process to be as such that the survivors are not re-traumatized at every interaction.
“What it comes down to in a nutshell is recognizing that there is [an] opportunity for our culture, our campus culture, to improve. I appreciate the way the folks at Voices of Whittier talk about consent culture. Consent culture, that is a thing that, as a campus, we can improve on. Like I said, it starts with recognizing the problem, and then facing that problem head-on.”
Featured image: Courtesy of NY Times.