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Campus-wide effort doubles student participation in HEDS Sexual Assault Survey

Content warning: sexual misconduct.

For most of April, flyers with Carlsfor4000 hashtags populated student email inboxes and informational billboards around campus. Carleton student groups, faculty, staff and administration collaborated to encourage students to fill out the HEDS Sexual Assault Survey. The result—a 38% response rate from students, a little over double that of the previous survey.  

The Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) is an organization of more than 100 colleges and universities across the United States that share knowledge and data on a variety of issues, including campus climate and sexual assault. Carleton is a member of HEDS and participated in the Sexual Assault Survey in 2015 and 2018 as well.

 This year, however, for the first time ever, Carleton pledged to donate $1,000 (up to a maximum of $4,000) to a local nonprofit for every 10% of Carleton students who complete the survey in order to incentivize higher response rates. Response rates in 2015 and 2018 were 24% and 18% of campus, respectively. 

That means that Carleton will be donating $3,000 to HOPE Center, a local nonprofit that aims to “create zero tolerance for sexual and domestic violence through healing, outreach, prevention and education.” HOPE Center, based in Faribault, provides direct support to survivors of sexual violence throughout Rice County. 

According to an email from Carleton’s Title IX Office to the student body, this year’s incentivization of student responses reflected a “recognition of how significantly [the survey] information can impact our community.”

“We received feedback from students that offering the incentive of a donation to HOPE Center would help increase the response rate and we are grateful to see this incentive had such a positive impact,” said Laura Riehle-Merrill, Carleton’s Title IX Coordinator. “We are thrilled with this outcome.”

 The survey asked students about their perceptions of Carleton’s climate regarding unwanted sexual contact and the extent to which they have experienced unwanted sexual contact. HEDS will later provide Carleton with campus-specific data and a comparison of Carleton’s results with peer institutions (other small liberal arts colleges), as well as all participating institutions. The results of the survey will then inform support services, policies and prevention programming on campus.

Director of Technology Support at Carleton, Austin Robinson-Coolidge, who has served either as a member of the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct or as Sexual Misconduct Support Advisor since 2010, was one of many staff and faculty members who urged students to complete the HEDS survey. 

“I believe one of the keys to reducing sexual violence at Carleton is better education, and, in order for that education to be effective, it needs to be targeted in ways that make it relevant and accessible.  The data collected in the HEDS survey will help tailor the education we provide to be more effective, and to gain a better understanding of what parts are working and what parts aren’t,” he wrote in an email to student workers. 

For instance, the 2015 HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey found that Carleton students reported a higher sense of satisfaction with the campus climate and reported a much greater sense of safety (overall and among men and women) than at peer institutions, but significantly fewer students perceived that campus officials would conduct an investigation against sexual offenders and hold offenders accountable. In addition, the survey indicated that drugs and alcohol surfaced as a factor in sexual assaults at Carleton more than at peer institutions. 

These results pointed campus officials in the direction of what “next steps” to take to improve Carleton’s campus climate. 

 In 2015, 10-11% of women and 3-4% of men reported being sexually assaulted since coming to Carleton, according to a 2016 Learning and Teaching Center session that examined and discussed the results of the survey. Higher proportions of queer students and students of color reported unwanted sexual behavior or contact. 

Any numbers—even low numbers—are a cause for concern because sexual harassment and assault have such a huge impact on students’ lives and ability to remain and succeed at Carleton.

If students want to report sexual misconduct, they can reach out to Laura Riehle-Merrill directly, fill out a Community Concern Form or visit the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response page for more information.

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