Lindsay Orchowski is a psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital and a research professor at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Her research aims to design and evaluate sexual assault prevention programs. Orchowski consulted with BYU in the development of its campus climate survey and shared her reaction to the survey results.
What stands out to you in the results?
The level of student participation in the BYU climate survey (43 percent) far exceeds that of many other institutions who have conducted similar surveys. The large number of students who participated in the survey lends confidence to the findings, and also speaks to the openness of the student community to address these issues.
Following incidents of unwanted sexual contact or harassment, many students reported experiencing problems in their spiritual and religious life – as well as problems in school, work, grades, interpersonal relationships and employment. These findings highlight an important opportunity for engaging the spiritual and religious community at BYU to help students cope with these experiences.
Consistent with existing research, most students at BYU turned to a friend or roommate to discuss experiences of unwanted sexual contact or harassment. The survey also highlighted how students at BYU are eager for more education on how to prevent sexual violence. Taken together, these findings suggest that university efforts to strengthen sexual violence prevention efforts will be well received by the student community. Public awareness campaigns such as “Start by Believing” – which focus on how to respond to disclosure of sexual violence – may be particularly useful for giving students the information they need to help a friend.
What positive impact can climate surveys have?
As noted in the report, annual Clery Act reports are likely to underestimate the actual prevalence of sexual violence on a campus. Thus, this climate survey is an important step to assessing the types of concerns that BYU students face relating to sexual harassment and assault. The BYU climate survey was comprehensive in nature – assessing not only incidents of misconduct, but also garnering student attitudes on how the university is responding to these issues, and gathering suggestions on how to make the university safer. The survey was also tailored to address the specific context of BYU as a faith-based institution. I believe that these data will give BYU important information on how to improve their prevention and response systems in a way that is directly responsive to the needs of the community.
What perspective would you share with somebody trying to make sense of the incidence of sexual misconduct at BYU?
In the year prior to the survey, about 1 in 16 women and 1 in 83 men experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. These data suggest that whether a student is in a large lecture hall or a small seminar class, there is likely to be someone in the same room whose life has been recently affected by sexual violence. Alarmingly high rates of sexual violence are seen among colleges across the United States, and despite over 30 years of awareness and advocacy efforts, the rates of sexual violence have shown little decline. Climate surveys like this one are an important step to raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and to helping mobilize efforts to address the issue.
Based on this, what do you consider to be BYU’s biggest gap on the issue and its biggest strength?
I visited BYU in April of 2017 to speak during Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I was struck by the tremendous sense of community that is present on campus. It is clear that students care deeply about one another and also care deeply about BYU as an institution. It was also evident to me that the team that worked to develop and implement the climate survey cares deeply about supporting students and is committed to using the data from the survey to create a safer campus community.
Universities often struggle to find a balance between allocating resources to support students who experience sexual misconduct and comprehensive efforts to prevent student misconduct. The results of this climate survey now provide BYU with an outstanding data-driven blueprint that can guide next steps in enhancing prevention efforts on campus.