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MIT launches 2019 AAU survey on sexual misconduct, responds to National Academies report

Survey open to all students April 2-May 1; MIT creates presidential advisory board and helps launch national consortium to improve academic climates and cultures.
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The 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct will be open for all students to take between April 2 and May 1.
The 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct will be open for all students to take between April 2 and May 1.
Poster encouraging people to take the survey
Image: Office of the Chancellor

Continuing its commitment to preventing and responding to sexual misconduct, MIT is taking important steps during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM): launching a student survey on sexual misconduct and establishing new leadership groups to advance efforts to combat sexual misconduct at MIT and to respond to the recommendations from a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’85 PhD ’88 and Provost Martin Schmidt SM ’83, PhD ’88 announced these efforts in a letter to the community today.

“To live up to MIT’s creative promise, we must work constantly to treat one another with decency, integrity, respect, and kindness. By definition then, we must never stop building and strengthening a culture that treats sexual harassment, coercion, and assault as absurdly out of bounds — unthinkable for anyone, of any age, in any context,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “I am tremendously grateful that in this work, we can count on the leadership and persistence of our senior leaders and hundreds of staff, students, and faculty across MIT. In the end, however, the most important work is up to all of us.”

2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct

MIT is participating in the Association of American Universities (AAU) second national campus climate survey on sexual misconduct. All students will receive an invitation to participate from Barnhart on April 2, and the survey will be open for completion until May 1.

The 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct will allow the Institute to measure the progress made to combat sexual misconduct in the five years since MIT conducted its landmark 2014 Campus Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) survey; identify and respond to new issues the AAU survey may uncover; and put MIT’s results into the context of national AAU aggregate data. Thirty-two other public and private research universities are participating in the 2019 AAU survey.

AAU retained Westat, a leading social science research firm, to lead the development of the survey questions. The design team for the questions included representatives from MIT and other participating schools as well as individuals with relevant expertise across the nation. Westat will administer the survey, and respondents will remain anonymous; no identifying information about an individual or a group will be linked to responses, and individual responses will remain confidential. Westat will provide MIT with a report of MIT’s results, which will be released to the community next fall.

In order to help MIT and other participating institutions better understand how sexual misconduct affects their student communities, and so schools can measure the effectiveness of their prevention and response efforts, the 2019 AAU survey includes sections that ask about students’ knowledge and beliefs about social situations; their perceptions related to sexual misconduct on campus; and their knowledge of resources available at MIT. The survey also asks respondents about their personal experience with sexual misconduct, such as gender- and identity-based harassment, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence. More information about the survey can be found here.

Responding to NASEM report at MIT and nationally

Last summer, NASEM released “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” Institute Professor Sheila Widnall co-chaired the committee responsible for producing the consensus study report, which found that between 20 and 50 percent of female students and more than 50 percent of female faculty and staff experienced sexually harassing behavior while in academia. Widnall joined her co-chair Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson; Reif; and Brandeis University Professor and MIT Research Affiliate Anita Hill for a community discussion about the report in September.

In their letter, Barnhart and Schmidt also announced a presidential advisory board and working groups that will be responsible for building on MIT’s ongoing prevention and response work as well as advancing the NASEM report recommendations. The board is comprised of senior officers, and the four working groups of faculty, students, post-docs, and staff will focus on leadership and engagement; training and prevention; policies and reporting; and academic and organizational relationships. More information about the membership, charges, and deadlines for the board and working groups is available here.

To help move the report’s recommendations forward nationally, MIT has agreed to be a founding member and to serve on the steering committee of the new Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. The collaborative’s academic leaders and stakeholders have four goals:

  • raise awareness about sexual harassment and how it occurs, the consequences of sexual harassment, and the organizational characteristics and approaches that can prevent it;
  • share and elevate evidence-based, institutional solutions and strategies;
  • contribute to setting the research agenda, and gather and apply research results across institutions; and
  • develop a standard for measuring progress in higher education.

According to NASEM, the collaborative will help academic institutions “achieve together what they cannot achieve individually: targeted, collective action at the institutional level for addressing and preventing all forms of sexual harassment and promoting a campus climate of civility and respect.”

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