The University of Maryland opened its first campus climate survey on sexual assault last week, bringing it in line with both state law and expectations from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
The Student Environment and Experiences Survey, which was sent to 10,000 randomly selected undergraduate students on Saturday, will gather information on students' perceptions and attitudes regarding the campus community, focusing on the scope and nature of sexual misconduct at the university.
In last year's General Assembly session, Del. Hettleman sponsored a bill requiring state higher education institutions to implement campus climate sexual assault surveys on or before March 1, 2016. And the 2014 report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault's recommendations included implementing a climate survey. The report stated this survey would be the best way to name the problem and to understand its extent.
Climate surveys are crucial to higher education institutions' understanding of their campus climates, particularly when it comes to issues of gender-based violence, alcohol consumption and drug use, said Catherine Carroll the director of the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.
From a research perspective, it is important to use reliable data to shape decision making, said Amelia Arria, the director of the university's Center on Young Adult Health and Development, who crafted the survey in conjunction with the Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct office.
"The university really needs objective data to go on, to allocate resources, to develop a better plan, to make the campus as good as it can be," Arria said. "If we don't hear from students, we only hear expert opinions and personal judgments, which can be skewed or inaccurate."
To encourage a high response rate among this year's randomly selected undergraduate students, the first 3,000 respondents will receive a $10 Terrapin Express credit.
Carroll said she hopes this incentive for 3,000 students will ensure a 30 percent response rate, but she said she wants as high a response rate as possible. The highest she encountered when examining other universities' climate surveys was a 67 percent rate at the University of Michigan.
In crafting the survey, Carroll said the Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct office had the benefit of pulling the best aspects of surveys implemented at other universities and improving their methods.
"The challenge was that many schools were just asking questions specific to gender-based or sexual violence, which is a harsh thing to jump into and ask students about," Carroll said. "We wanted to craft something with contextual understanding, with how issues present themselves, but also with information that we could do something with."
For example, the survey asks students who experienced an incident of sexual misconduct whether they were aware of resources on the campus, whether they thought they were required to report to police and how the incident affected them personally — all areas in which Carroll said she could target additional information to students, based on results.
In designing the survey, Carroll and Arria crafted questions on student information, health and wellness — in addition to the targeted sexual misconduct queries — and sent it to stakeholders including the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the athletic department, the Student Conduct office, the Department of Resident Life and CARE to Stop Violence for further feedback.
The final draft of the survey included questions about the use of prescription drugs such as Adderall, how many times students skipped class and their mental health and wellbeing.
Though it's difficult to anticipate what information will be gained from the survey before it is completed, Andrea Goodwin, director of the Student Conduct office, said she expects it to help target outreach and education to students, as well as potentially shape policies in the future.
"We've done various surveys throughout the years, but this is the first of its kind — it's more comprehensive and more specific," Goodwin said. "It's really asking about things that will affect students on the campus in terms of sexual assault and different experiences or behaviors of students."