Staff Editorial: Changes in campus climate survey limit data’s usefulness

A few weeks ago, University officials finally released the results of last year’s unwanted sexual behavior survey. Unfortunately, the survey’s official report left out information that students and administrators could have used.

When GW took almost a year to release the survey’s results, The Hatchet’s editorial board built up expectations about what would come out of it: We expected to be able to fairly compare the results of this year’s survey to 2014’s results. We expected to hear plans about what administrators would do with the results, like we did following the first report’s release. We expected a statistically coherent report.

But that wasn’t what we got out of the unwanted sexual behavior survey’s results. There was nothing new or informative that justified the excessive amount of time it took the Title IX office to release them. And the 2015 survey results had some inconsistencies from the way officials reported results the year before. These issues make us question the usefulness of the data.

The 2014 survey and the 2015 survey used different groupings of students. The most glaring difference was officials’ choice to combine undergraduate and graduate students’ answers. Freshmen have different experiences from graduate students. Lumping the data together ignores the unique characteristics of each group, and it’s inconsistent with the last year’s data, which differentiated between graduate and undergraduate students.

The two surveys cannot be accurately compared because the results of each survey were not reported in the same way. For a university that requires almost every major to take a research methods course, it is surprising that the University’s own reporting metrics weren’t consistent.

Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad said the research methodology used in the 2014 and 2015 surveys were the same. But the reports’ presentations don’t match up.

The 2015 survey’s full report does not have as much information as the 2014 survey’s did. The graphs in the report from last year’s survey are aesthetically pleasing, but they aren’t packed with information. The 2014 survey results were laid out in exhaustive, explanatory details with graphs, charts and written explanations. Last year’s results should have followed the same format. Because the data reporting method is inconsistent from year to year, it’s hard to accurately compare the results.

And now that the results have been released, it’s troubling to know that the Title IX office has not released plans for programming based on the results. After the 2014 survey results were released, Muhammad said he would push for mandatory in-person sexual assault prevention trainings. Although the 2015 survey results look incomparable to 2014’s, the data seems to indicate that those trainings did inform students. Therefore, we would think the Title IX office’s staff would be excited to release their next goals for sexual assault prevention education.

“We will continue make resources available to our students in a variety of ways including complaint processes, confidential reporting, counseling services, help with obtaining medical care, academic or housing accommodations, no-contact orders, etc,” Muhammad said in an email. “Over the last year there has been an increase in outreach material and the number of trainings presented to faculty, staff and students.”

But only 32 percent of surveyed students reported knowing how to contact the Title IX office. That number is an improvement from before the mandatory trainings were implemented, but it still leaves 68 percent of students without knowledge about how to report instances of sexual violence. Muhammad and others should be open about their plans to increase the number of students who know about the Title IX office’s function. The only goal Muhammad released after the report came out a few weeks ago was that he and the Title IX office staff plan to conduct the survey less frequently.

Students should take a look at these reports side by side and hold officials accountable by calling for a release of the methodology of the 2015 report. The latest report looks more like a press release than an exhaustive survey on sexual assault climate on campus. This issue can’t fade into the background as the surveys are conducted less frequently, and students on campus now matriculate.

University officials need to know that these results should be easy to understand and consistent, and the results should push them to continue developing programs to combat campus sexual assault. We should not accept this survey’s statistical issues and the Title IX office’s lack of plans moving forward.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.

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