Harvard Launches Third Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey


Harvard launched a monthlong campus climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct last week as part of a routine assessment of campus culture and Title IX resources.

The Higher Education Sexual Misconduct and Awareness survey, open from April 2 to May 2, comes five years after the last climate survey on sexual misconduct in 2019 and will be available to all degree-earning students at the University.

Harvard has participated in similar surveys conducted by the Association of American Universities in 2015 and 2019, and it now joins nine other schools participating in the HESMA survey. The survey measures the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct as well as student knowledge and use of University resources.

After the survey closes, Westat — an independent research firm — will process the data and detach the results from participant identifiers. Harvard’s results will be published in the fall as part of aggregate results from all 10 participating universities.


Nicole Merhill, Harvard University’s Title XI coordinator and director of the Office for Gender Equity, stressed the importance of using a confidential survey administered by a third party.

“We know that we cannot rely on formal complaints or disclosures alone to give us a sense of what’s happening within our community, because we know that not all individuals who are impacted by harm, feel comfortable coming forward to the University and sharing their concerns,” Merhill said in an interview.

To boost turnout, the University is offering all students who participate a $20 gift card upon completion of the survey.

Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, the survey’s principal investigator, said the questions will mostly remain the same as previous iterations of the survey as the University tries to track sexual misconduct data over time. Some additional questions have been added in response to new Massachusetts law.

McGinn said Harvard will consider trends in the data to determine the impact of recent initiatives to combat sexual misconduct and provide support for students.

“How are our numbers changing?” she said. “How might we think about the relationship between the changes and what we have and haven’t done on campus since the last time?”

The 2019 survey found that 33 percent of undergraduate women at Harvard reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual conduct. It also found that only 41 percent of women and 27 percent of men accessed University resources after “penetration involving physical force or inability to consent.”

Harvard Deputy Provost Peggy Newell wrote in a statement to The Crimson that the data was “crucial in guiding many of the changes that have occurred since 2019,” pointing to the increased prevention training and education put in place for affiliates.

“Expansion of training has focused on active bystander intervention, trauma-informed responses to harm, and the responsibilities of faculty and staff in response to student disclosures of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or other forms of sexual misconduct,” she wrote.

The 2019 survey results were cited in a 2021 decision to dissolve the Title IX Office and the Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, consolidating the offices into the Office for Gender Equity, which Merhill leads.

Merhill said the 2024 survey will be critical in assessing the OGE’s anonymous disclosure line and bystander training, which she said was “new and responsive to the 2019 survey.”

Some Harvard student groups promoted the University’s surveying, urging their constituents to complete it.

The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Worker’s Feminist Working Group posted the survey on their Instagram, encouraging members to participate in order to show the University the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus.

“Many of us within FWG have experienced (a lot of) sexual misconduct in the workplace, and we are willing to bet it’s not just us!” the group wrote. “Make sure Harvard knows how challenging it is to navigate our workplaces when this sort of behavior is normalized.”

Each student can access the survey via a personalized link.

Correction: April 10, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Higher Education Sexual Misconduct and Awareness survey as the HEMSA survey. In fact, it is the HESMA survey.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.