We Speak 2015: Attitudes on Sexual Misconduct at Princeton Survey Frequently Asked Questions

What resources are available for individuals who have questions or concerns relating to sexual misconduct?

Individuals who have experienced or witnessed an alleged incident of sex discrimination or sexual misconduct have many options. To learn more about resources, explore ways to report an experience, or to talk with someone about your questions and concerns, see the Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct website. To talk with a confidential resource, contact the Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office.

Why did Princeton decide to conduct a survey related to sexual misconduct?

Issues related to inappropriate sexual behavior are a longstanding challenge faced by colleges and universities across the country. Many colleges and universities, like Princeton, have policies, resources and programs to address inappropriate sexual behaviors and support individuals who many have experienced these behaviors. However, it can be difficult to obtain comprehensive, accurate and consistent data regarding these experiences. In order to collect more information, Princeton planned and conducted the We Speak: Attitudes on Sexual Misconduct at Princeton (We Speak) survey as part of the University’s ongoing efforts to provide a campus environment that is safe and supportive of all students.

In 2014, Princeton and the U.S. Department for Education’s Office for Civil Rights entered into a resolution agreement related to compliance with Title IX. The We Speak survey fulfills Princeton’s commitment to survey its campus community as designated in that agreement.

How was the survey designed?

The Faculty-Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct determined that the survey’s goal should be to collect information that would be specific to Princeton and that would allow us to make decisions about programming and prevention efforts on our campus. After assessing various survey models, including the AAU Sexual Assault Climate Survey that was being developed, the Faculty-Student Advisory Committee decided that a customized survey would be the best way to accomplish that goal. A group of campus administrators, including those with expertise in sexual misconduct, health, and survey design, met for several months to design the survey.

The We Speak questionnaire was largely based upon the #iSPEAK survey instrument developed by the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) in School of Social Work at Rutgers University and the survey instrument recommended by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The questionnaire also included items from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault (CASA) Survey and the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II (ACHA-NCHA II). These questions were used with permission. The survey questionnaire was further customized to meet the specific needs of the Princeton community.

An annotated version of the We Speak survey instrument is available online.

What topics does the survey include?

The survey collected information about students’ experiences while attending the University related to inappropriate sexual behaviors, including: non-consensual sexual contact (which in many cases is considered sexual assault); non-consensual sexual penetration (commonly called rape); intimate relationship violence; stalking; and sexual harassment. The survey also asked students about their knowledge of these issues, as well as their awareness of related University policies and procedures.

What is unique about Princeton’s survey, and why?

The We Speak Survey was designed to collect information about a much broader range of inappropriate sexual behaviors than other often cited studies that focus solely on sexual assault. This broader range is reflective of the broad scope of University policies related to sexual misconduct.

For the survey, inappropriate sexual behaviors could include: non-consensual sexual contact (which in many cases is considered sexual assault); non-consensual sexual penetration (commonly called rape); intimate relationship violence; stalking; and sexual harassment. In contrast to the We Speak Survey, other often cited studies focus solely on sexual assault. The We Speak Survey also includes “unwanted sexual contact that results from coercion or threatened physical harm” as a sexual assault tactic in its prevalence estimates, while the other studies have excluded the tactic from their analyses.

The We Speak Survey, while based upon previous work exploring issues related to inappropriate sexual behaviors, has been designed to meet the specific needs of Princeton University to identify, correct and improve these issues. The prevalence estimates reported here are specific to this study and are not directly comparable to other studies reported by other universities and in the media. Focusing on student experiences while at Princeton, the We Speak Survey used the “current school year [2014-15]” as its reference period, while other higher education studies that have been recently released have used “since you began college” or “since starting college.”

What timeframe does the survey cover, and why?

The survey was administered over 28 days beginning March 24, 2015. Princeton chose to use the “2014-15 academic year” as the reference time period for the We Speak Survey as opposed to the “since you began college” employed in the often cited Campus Sexual Assault Study or “since starting college” used in the more recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll. We reached this decision because the We Speak survey was administered to all students, including freshmen who had been on campus for just 7 months and advanced graduate students who had on campus for nearly 7 years. The concern was that using the “since you began college” construct would complicate the analysis since students would be asked to recall events that occurred over varying periods of time. The University plans to administer the We Speak Survey annually over the next several years (including in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years) and will be able to measure assaults within a series of comparable short time frames. We chose not to use the “past 12 months” time frame because we were interested in incidents that have occurred on this campus.

What will Princeton do with its survey data?

The data will be studied carefully by the Title IX Office, the SHARE Office, and the Faculty-Student Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct. It will be used to inform and enhance programming focused on prevention, support for those who have experienced misconduct, and bystander training.

Will Princeton conduct more surveys in the future?

Yes, Princeton has committed to conduct a similar survey in at least the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years. By administering the climate survey annually, Princeton will be able to monitor the frequency of sexual misconduct incidents by class year, providing us with insight into the rate of victimization throughout students' tenure and any risk factors specific to year of matriculation.

How do Princeton’s data compare with data from other surveys? Why do other surveys get different results than ours?

A number of research studies[1], [2], [3] and institutional-based survey projects[4], [5], [6] have been undertaken in efforts to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of inappropriate sexual behaviors at colleges and universities. While each of these studies has made important contributions to our understanding of sexual assault on college and university campuses, the ability to generalize the results from one study to another is limited, since each well-designed study was tailored to meet the specific needs of the study sponsor.

In this regard, the reader should be aware that the We Speak Survey, while based upon previous work exploring sexual assault[7], [8], has been modified to meet the specific needs of Princeton University. This makes Princeton's prevalence estimates distinct and difficult to compare to other published surveys. Our findings are, however, generally consistent those being reported elsewhere.

Can we be confident that the survey results represent the campus experience accurately?

The survey had a high response rate from both undergraduates (52%) and graduate students (53%), one of the highest among recent sexual misconduct surveys. However, while the response pool is representative of the Princeton student body with respect to academic career and gender, we cannot rule out the possibility that students who chose not to participate might have responded differently to the survey questions. This does not make the findings from the survey less accurate; it means that the information based on those who responded to the survey should not simply be extrapolated to the Princeton student body as a whole.

Is Princeton releasing all its survey data?

Princeton is making as much of its survey data available as possible in the final report. In order to protect the confidentiality of those who completed the survey, a small amount of data has been masked in the data tables in order to avoid the possibility of identifying any individual student. Where data has been masked, it is indicated in the footnotes to the tables.

What activities and programming are underway to address the risk of sexual misconduct at Princeton?

Each year, there are multiple education and prevention initiatives that take place for the campus community. These include mandatory sexual assault prevention training for incoming first-year students and graduate students; bystander intervention trainings; sexual violence response and investigations training; and many individual programs

In 2015, the University launched a comprehensive bystander intervention training program, UMatter, focused on addressing problematic, interrelated behaviors on campus. Such behaviors include sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic/dating violence and stalking, high risk drinking, bias and mental health distress.