Univ. Working with Peer Institutions on Sexual Assault Survey

A task force commissioned last spring to address sexual misconduct on campus is actively collaborating with peer institutions to create a “climate survey”—set to be distributed to the Harvard community in the spring—to gauge the circumstances in which unwanted sexual advances occur, according to the group’s chair Steven E. Hyman.

University President Drew G. Faust announced the creation of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault in April amid increased national and on-campus attention on the issue last semester. A month later, the group issued a set of early recommendations regarding funding for the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and sexual assault prevention training during orientation programs.

The work of the task force overlaps with the rollout of the first University-wide sexual assault policy, which was announced in July.

While Hyman referred to the group’s initial recommendations as “obvious early fixes,” he said the upcoming survey—the task force’s central focus—has proved more challenging.

“I was sort of naive going into the process in that I imagined...that there were really good instruments already designed to elicit responses,” Hyman, former University Provost, said. “But in fact, as we looked pretty deeply into it...we realized that the existing instruments were not going to do the job.”


As an example of the difficulties in interpreting the drivers and incidence of sexual assault, Hyman cited increased reports of sexual misconduct, which could reflect higher rates of misconduct or an improved reporting system, among other factors.

Working with peer institutions from the Association of American Universities, Hyman said, will help the task force develop a more rigorous set of survey questions as well as better understand how other schools are addressing the issue of sexual misconduct, both through pre-survey discussions and ultimately comparison of survey results across institutions.

“Harvard has sometimes had a tendency to go it alone, but here I really do think we have to learn from each other,” Hyman said.

Two members of the task force, Economics professor David I. Laibson ’88 and Director of University Health Services Paul J. Barreira, are preliminarily involved in a committee across public and private institutions in the AAU to develop the survey’s common core, according to Hyman. Laibson was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

In addition, Faust attended an AAU meeting on sexual assault last spring and said in September that she has talked to members of the AAU, including the president of Brown University, about sexual assault and climate survey design.

“We're trying to figure out how to align ourselves with other institutions,” she said.

Hyman said that the task force will gather student perspectives on sexual assault in November and add University-specific questions to the survey core before launching it in the spring. He added that the task force will release a report based on the survey results in fall 2015 and aims to make the results “really public.”

“[Sexual misconduct] is damaging of lives, damaging of people's opportunities to get educated,” he said. “It's really important the testimony that we'll be getting later this fall, in the research we're doing...and in interpreting survey results both internally and externally, we really try to understand how they guide us toward preventative intervention.”

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.


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