posted on: Thursday November 15, 2018
by Hannah Langley ’21
Sexual harassment and assault are prevalent issues no matter what college you go to, and many college students do not even realize it. Although many colleges require incoming freshmen to participate in sexual assault awareness programs, many college students still have questions and misconceptions about issues and stigmas surrounding sexual assault.
In the spring of 2018, Providence College sent out a survey to students attending the College to gain a better statistical understanding of the misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. The survey also aimed to collect data on the number of students who feel either uncomfortable being at PC or have been sexually assaulted.
The data from this survey was then compared to other colleges across the country that participated in a similar survey. The results indicated that in several instances, PC’s statistics were higher than the other colleges’ reports, indicating a higher level of discomfort on campus and higher rates of sexual harassment and assault.
The survey was taken by 777 students out of PC’s student population of what was then 3,989. The number of respondents, while it may seem small, was comparable to the number of respondents across other college campuses.
The survey reported that 19 percent of the respondents had experienced sexual assault. The most common form of harassment was in the form of a sexist joke or remark, reaching up to 72 percent. More answers included being sent emails or texts and bribery for participating in a sexual relationship.
In total, 31 percent of students reported they experienced non-violent behavior or harassment from an intimate partner, and five percent reported being engaged in violent behavior from a partner.
Of the sexual assault cases reported in the survey, 48 percent were said to have been on-campus.
Only seven respondents said they went through the responding procedures of PC, while 74 percent only went so far as to talk to a friend, roommate, or classmate.
The survey also pointed out that the rate of students who “observed a situation that [they] believed was, or could have led to, sexual assault” and who responded “sexual misconduct is somewhat or definitely a problem at my school” was much higher at PC compared to other institutions.
According to the survey, 23 percent of students “seriously considered leaving the school” due to the fact that “they didn’t feel welcomed or supported at the school.”
Some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings expressed by students in the survey include that nearly half of the respondents believe a person’s academic standing would suffer if they reported anything, that rape and sexual assault is more likely after the consumption of alcohol, and that a woman who constantly hooks up with men will eventually find herself in trouble.
When looked at broadly, these numbers may not seem that high. However, taken into the context that only 777 out of 3,989 students took the survey, these percentages only represent a very small segment of the College’s population, and the numbers could theoretically be much higher with full participation.
In response to recent concerns and this survey, administration, faculty, staff, and even students are working to create more awareness and understanding of what sexual assault is.
Dr. James Campbell, assistant vice president for student development and compliance and Title IX coordinator, and Alison Sjovall, student affairs communication and assessment specialist, explained that the College is planning several initiatives to prevent sexual assault and harassment at PC.
They explained that the school has applied to participate in a multi-campus collaborative effort with the National Association of Student Personal Affairs (NASPA) called “Culture of Respect.” “[This collective effort] seeks to identify and implement the best practices in sexual assault prevention and responses,” said Sjovall.
She also stated that the College will be sharing the data so that they can get reactions, ideas, responses, and engagement from the PC community. “Students need to be part of the solution,” explained Sjovall.
Both Campbell and Sjovall pointed out the ways in which the school currently communicates about reporting sexual assault or harassment, which include the signs in bathroom stalls, information sessions during orientation, sexual assault awareness month, and Student Health 101. There is also a section on the school’s website, Campbell and Sjovall mentioned, titled “What to Do After an Assault” that provides information to anyone in need.
They mentioned, however, that they are always open to new ideas of how to reach out to students better and communicate with them about these issues more efficiently.
Administrative faculty members are not the only ones attempting to shed light on the issue of sexual assault. A new student group called RISE, short for Reclaim, Inform, Support, Empower, has made a big impact on the PC community already. Brianna O’Shaughnessy ’19, one of the club’s founders, has promoted the club to be open to all PC students who want to promote awareness to the College’s community, and also provides support for those who are victims of sexual assault.
Sjovall also recognized the need to address the issue of diversity within this survey, stating, “We need to seek additional understanding of our cultural and community behaviors/attitudes as they relate to sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
Sjovall added that the school is beginning to offer shortened versions of Title IX training to any student interested or passionate about this issue. Students interested in undergoing training can contact Dr. Campbell for more information.
Both Campbell and Sjovall recognize that there is still much improvement to be made surrounding the issue of sexual assault and harassment at PC. “What we need,” Sjovall stated, “is to identify prevention initiatives that actually work and can work campus-wide.”