Penn State

Penn State releases sexual misconduct climate survey

Penn State graduate student Anna Jantz speaks during a press conference on Wednesday during which the results of the 2015 Penn State Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey were revealed.
Penn State graduate student Anna Jantz speaks during a press conference on Wednesday during which the results of the 2015 Penn State Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey were revealed. nmark@centredaily.com

Penn State officials see a new report on sexual misconduct in a positive light even though there are some numbers no one likes.

On Wednesday, the university unveiled its sexual misconduct climate survey for University Park, a tool that collected data and feedback on how people think and feel about the unsettling topic.

“It was a challenging undertaking,” said President Eric Barron. “Some of it was surprising, some deeply troubling, some requires immediate attention.”

About 9,500 of 11,000 randomly selected undergraduates and graduate and professional students completed the survey, turning up some interesting statistics.

Overall, 76.4 percent of undergraduates think Penn State would take a report of sexual misconduct seriously, with 75.3 percent of graduate and professional students agreeing.

Even more students, 89.1 percent of undergrads and 83.2 percent of grad and professional students think the university would maintain the privacy of the person reporting misconduct.

“I was encouraged to learn that a significant part of our students have a high degree of trust (in Penn State),” said Barron.

The numbers do dip when asking if they think the school would provide accommodations to support a person making a report, with just more than half of both groups agreeing. Graduate students who identified as part of the LGBTQ community had the least confidence, with just 39.6 percent thinking the university would support a reporter.

But some numbers were remarkable in just how small they were.

Ask the students about whether they think their friends would approve of some misconduct behaviors, and students believed their acquaintances had a low tolerance. The highest number for all questions came back at just 6.2 percent. Students almost uniformly agreed it was wrong to hit, belittle or insult someone in a relationship, or force someone to have sex or get them drunk to do the same.

But then, ask if they feel safe. While overall, 74 percent of undergrads felt safe from sexual violence, that number was middle ground from a high of 90 percent for men, and a low of 58 to 61 percent for LGBTQ and female students, meaning that for every 10 of those students on campus, four of them don’t feel safe.

What students do think is that they can make a difference.

The stats showed that 80 percent of undergrads and 74 percent of graduates think they can do something about the problem.

One number that did not surprise anyone was the relationship between sexual misconduct and alcohol or drugs. Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said he hopes that the importance of the sexual misconduct issue to the students can help drive change in the drug and alcohol area.

The survey was one of the 18 recommendations from Barron’s sexual assault and harassment task force, announced in 2015. The survey cost $35,000, but Barron said the expense was more than outweighed by the value.

The survey was also conducted at Penn State’s other campuses and will be revisited annually, he said.

“One thing that cannot be oversimplified is Penn State’s deep and sincere commitment to do all it reasonably can to prevent sexual misconduct among students wherever it may occur,” Sims said.

Sims and Barron both said the data will continue to be explored.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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