An article titled “Oberlin Completes 2022 Campus Climate Survey” published in the Review on April 22 reports on the recent completion of Oberlin’s fourth Higher Education Data Sharing Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey. This survey is an important tool for the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as it provides information about the sexual violence happening on campus and the ways in which students, faculty, and staff must address it. The results from this survey, however, are not publicly available. Withholding this information prevents students from knowing exactly what’s happening in their community and inhibits them from having a broader conversation about sexual assault.
Many colleges and universities utilize the same survey Oberlin administered to assess the prevalence of sexual assault on their respective campuses. Unlike Oberlin, however, many schools that conduct this survey share the information they collect. Kenyon College, Boston University, Northeastern University, and Regis College all conducted the same survey and published their results on their websites. Each of these reports includes exact statistics and can be accessed in a matter of minutes. However, the problem doesn’t only lie in the fact that Oberlin won’t release the data from the most recent survey — the College hasn’t released information from any of the surveys conducted in years past.
The Review’s news article on the survey highlights the guarded nature of this information. “While students and faculty can request the data for research purposes, they are not allowed to disseminate it,” the article reads. Why can the results of the survey be accessed only under specific circumstances and in the name of research? Why are those who do have access to this information not allowed to share it? The prevalence of sexual assault on campus is something that the student body should be aware of.
While Oberlin does hold the Title IX-mandated compulsory consent education and bystander training to aid in minimizing the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, these efforts must continue outside of workshops in order to be effective. How can students understand the importance of this training if they can’t grasp the scope of the problem itself? Resources like Survivors of Sexual Harm & Allies and the Counseling Center are available to survivors, however, these outlets are ultimately remedial and can only really be utilized after harm has already been done. Oberlin is missing a crucial middle piece that addresses sexual harm on a cultural level, and those conversations can’t happen until we have the necessary information about the sexual harm that occurs on campus.
Withholding this information ignores the problem of sexual assault instead of addressing it and speaks volumes about the College’s priorities. Yes, confidentiality is extremely important when it comes to protecting survivors’ identities, but releasing data from an anonymous survey in the form of aggregate statistics would not breach this privacy or reveal any personal information. The only thing this nondisclosure protects is the false perception that sexual assault doesn’t happen, when it most certainly does.
Experiencing harm is already incredibly isolating. In addition to inhibiting critical conversations on campus, withholding information about the prevalence of this problem furthers feelings of isolation. By failing to speak out against a very real issue on campus, the College fails to acknowledge just how serious sexual assault is. It sends the message that they don’t care, that what happened to survivors doesn’t matter. Inadvertently, this enables a culture of tolerance toward sexual assault, one that lets abusers get away while telling survivors to deal with their problems silently and privately.
In an email I received from Oberlin Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Mosely, she wrote that some key statistics would be pulled from the most recent data and published in a report this fall. However, she did not say which statistics would be used or why the general data won’t be available, or provide any information from previous surveys. I’m not optimistic, as Oberlin often fails to keep its promises. Hopefully, if the results are released in the fall, next year will be different.
While I personally believe that this information should be made available on the College’s website so that prospective students know what they’re getting into, there is a middle ground. Oberlin could disseminate the data internally to students, faculty, and staff without releasing it to the general public. If students had this information, it would encourage us to become more vigilant and learn how to better support our peers.