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MIT takes action in response to sexual misconduct survey findings

New measures on campus announced for advocacy, support, education, and accountability.
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MIT and 32 other universities and colleges have released findings from the 2019 Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct. The survey was sent to all MIT undergraduate and graduate students last spring, and the results are informing a series of existing and new actions outlined by President L. Rafael Reif and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart in a letter to the Institute community today.

“In recent forums, the anguished personal stories of many members of our community — students, faculty, and staff — strongly underscored what the survey results make clear: that we must focus our attention on the issues specific to sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment,” Reif wrote. “And at the same time, as a community, we must identify and push back against aspects of our culture, including the power imbalances that exist across MIT, that can make these problems worse. In this difficult and urgent work, I believe we must, and I hope we will, join together to create a more compassionate and cohesive community — the ideal of one MIT.”

Barnhart, whom Reif charged with combatting sexual misconduct at MIT when he appointed her chancellor in February 2014, led the effort to survey the MIT student community and has made all 2019 survey data available to the community on her website. In the letter, she highlighted the following datapoints:

  • Nonconsensual sexual contact: One in 14 MIT students (7.2 percent) experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent. The rate for undergraduate women is 18.4 percent; for non-heterosexual students is 13.9 percent; for transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary (TGQN) students is 11.9 percent; for graduate women is 8.3 percent; for undergraduate men is 6.5 percent; and for graduate men is 1.4 percent. One in nine MIT students (11.0 percent) experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, inability to consent, coercion, or without voluntary agreement. The rate for undergraduate women is one in four; for TGQN students is one in five; and for graduate women is one in seven.
  • Sexual harassment: One in six MIT students experienced sexual harassment; of this group, seven out of 10 are women. The rate for TGQN students is one in three.
  • Bystander behavior: Eight in 10 MIT students took some type of action when they witnessed sexually harassing behaviors by others.
  • Resource awareness: Nearly two in three students are aware of MIT’s Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) and Title IX and Bias Response (T9BR) offices.

“A colleague said to me recently that ‘a community’s culture is defined by the behaviors the community tolerates,’” Barnhart wrote. “Sadly, we have continued to tolerate deeply disturbing behaviors and that tolerance has caused pain to many members of our community. Fortunately, I believe we now have the will and the community momentum we need to come together to fix these systemic issues. To everyone who makes it their daily mission to fight for an MIT where every community member is safe and treated with respect, I look forward to continuing to partner with you, and to encouraging more colleagues and students to join us in this work."

Barnhart has been helping to lead MIT’s sexual misconduct prevention and response work for the past five years. In 2014, following the Institute’s landmark first survey of student experiences with unwanted sexual behaviors, the administration partnered with students, faculty, and staff to take the following steps:

  • Offered more education about support resources, reporting options, and how to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviors, including requiring all incoming students and current employees to complete online training;
  • Lowered barriers to help-seeking and reporting;
  • Made important updates to policies and procedures; and
  • Committed to continually measuring progress toward the goal of creating a safer, more respectful, and inclusive climate for all.

Noting that ongoing engagement at all levels of the Institute will be essential to designing and implementing solutions following the 2019 survey, Barnhart announced that she will host a series of forums for the MIT community, with the first on Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. in Room 10-250. The forums will feature discussion about the 2019 survey results and MIT’s response, including the steps outlined today:

  • Increasing Education and Resources: Following the 2014 sexual misconduct survey, MIT instituted online training for incoming students and current employees and ramped up in-person group education. Barnhart wrote that MIT is now further expanding its educational offerings to respond to the growing number of requests for in-person trainings as well as to respond to the recommendation from the Institute Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response (CSMPR) for required ongoing education, which will be delivered in-person or online. CSMPR is a group of faculty, students, and staff who have been instrumental to shaping and advancing MIT’s work in these areas. To meet the broadened scope of our education programs, as well as to advance advocacy, support, and several of the other steps described below, the Institute will hire additional staff in Violence Prevention and Response (VPR), Student Mental Health and Counseling Services, and the Title IX and Bias Response Office (T9BR). Additionally, the administration will provide resources to encourage and support efforts that address MIT’s climate and culture issues.
  • Implementing new policy and reporting on complaints of sexual misconduct against faculty and staff: After a comprehensive review, which included gathering input from community members, a new policy for handling harassment and discrimination complaints against faculty and staff will go into effect on Feb. 3, 2020. This policy, which will rely on professional, neutral investigators to conduct fact finding, will provide enhanced processes for consistent and fair handling of these types of complaints. Barnhart also announced that the administration is committed to being more transparent in releasing aggregate statistics about the outcomes of faculty and staff cases in a manner that balances transparency with the important privacy and confidentiality interests of those involved in the complaints.
  • Opening a new central office for responding to discrimination: T9BR will expand its scope and its staff to become the single portal that all community members can access when they are concerned they have been subject to discrimatory treatment at MIT. The office will be renamed the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office (IDHR) and will be up and running at the beginning of next semester. IDHR, in consultation with central Human Resources and the General Counsel’s Office, will be responsible for implementing the policy mentioned above.
  • Sharing and implementing recommendations from the National Academies Working Groups responding to the National Academies Report on Sexual Harassment: Last April, MIT announced that President Reif was in the process of establishing an advisory board of senior officers and four working groups responsible for responding to the 2018 National Academies Report on the Sexual Harassment of Women in Academia’s specific recommendations and advancing MIT’s ongoing work to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct. The groups are focusing on leadership, policies, training, and the power imbalances in many working and academic relationships at the Institute. Draft reports will be released for comment at the end of October, and the working group co-chairs will present the recommendations at the Nov. 5 forum in order to collect community input before implementation. A feedback form has been set up so that the community can share ideas, perspectives, and suggestions about this work.

  • Coordinating Activities: The MindHandHeart (MHH) team is working with departments to understand and improve academic cultures and climates. More information about the MHH Department Support Project, a data-informed initiative designed to cultivate welcoming and inclusive learning environments, is available here.

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