Stanford releases results of campus climate survey of students

Results of a campus climate survey taken by undergraduate and graduate students in spring 2015 show Stanford has "much more work to do in battling sexual assault and misconduct," President John Hennessy said.

A survey of Stanford University undergraduate and graduate students has found that 1.9 percent of respondents have experienced a sexual assault, as defined in university policy, since starting their degree program at Stanford. Another 14.2 percent have experienced some other form of sexual misconduct.

The figures are higher for women and for gender-diverse respondents. Among undergraduate survey respondents, 4.7 percent of women and 6.6 of gender-diverse students said they had experienced a sexual assault since coming to Stanford. An additional 32.9 percent of undergraduate women respondents and 30.8 percent of gender-diverse undergraduate respondents said they had experienced another form of sexual misconduct.

An overwhelming majority of surveyed students – 87 percent – reported feeling safe on the Stanford campus, and 87 percent said they believed Stanford would take any reports of sexual assault seriously. But the survey also found that many students believe there is room for improvement in educating students about sexual assault prevention and in providing campus support for students going through personal crises.

These are among the findings released today of the Stanford Campus Climate Survey, administered in the spring quarter of 2015. Stanford sent the anonymous survey to all 15,368 degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students, seeking to gather student views of campus culture and to improve the university’s understanding of the nature and extent of prohibited sexual conduct on campus.

Across the campus, 66 percent of undergraduates and 53 percent of graduate students participated, for an overall response rate of 59 percent, or 9,067 students.

The results, while important for Stanford’s efforts to achieve a campus culture free of sexual assault and misconduct, cannot be directly compared to the results of similar surveys undertaken at many other universities across the nation this year. The surveys vary widely in the questions asked and definitions used. For instance, Stanford’s survey asked students about their experiences with prohibited sexual conduct since beginning their current degree program at Stanford – not simply within the last year, as some other university surveys have asked.

“The results of this survey show clearly that we have much more work to do in battling sexual assault and misconduct,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “These findings point to unacceptable behaviors that are fundamentally inconsistent with our community values. The results also indicate that we must enhance our support for students in crisis or distress.”

Stanford is currently implementing last spring’s recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices, and this survey will provide important information to assist that process. “The findings also underscore the need for all of us in the Stanford community to play an active role in developing solutions and modeling behavior,” Hennessy said. “This is a problem that requires the serious attention of everyone in the Stanford community.”

Stanford contracted with an independent research organization, NORC at the University of Chicago, to administer the climate survey in late April and early May 2015. Students were offered a $20 or $30 incentive to participate in the survey, with the option of receiving an Amazon gift card or contributing the money to charity. Stanford students contributed $45,000 to four local and national charities through the survey incentive.

Findings on prohibited conduct

To obtain accurate information, the survey asked detailed questions about students’ experiences using everyday language and names of intimate body parts. The results indicate the prevalence among survey respondents of each act, meaning the proportion of students who experienced an act at least once. The survey did not seek to measure the total number of individual incidents experienced by any one respondent.

Stanford policy, based on California criminal rape and sexual offense statutes, defines “sexual assault” as a nonconsensual sexual act – involving intercourse, digital penetration, oral sex or penetration with a foreign object – accomplished by use of force, violence, duress, menace, inducement of incapacitation or knowingly taking advantage of an incapacitated person.

Of the 9,067 respondents, 1.9 percent indicated having had experiences that met this definition of sexual assault since beginning their current degree program at Stanford. Prevalence rates of sexual assault among undergraduates were higher for gender-diverse respondents (6.6 percent) and women (4.7 percent) than for men (0.6 percent). (Student respondents self-identifying as transgender, genderqueer, gender-nonconforming, preferring another term or selecting multiple gender identities are referred to as gender-diverse in the survey report.)

Among graduate student respondents, the prevalence of sexual assault was higher for women (2 percent) than men (0.3 percent), with prevalence rates among graduate gender-diverse students too small to report without compromising respondents’ privacy.

Respondents identifying as heterosexual/straight had a sexual assault prevalence rate of 1.6 percent overall, compared to a prevalence rate of 3.9 percent among respondents who did not identify as heterosexual/straight.

Among all students who reported having experienced a sexual assault, 72 percent indicated that the act was accomplished by a person or persons “taking advantage of you when you were drunk or high.”

A second category in the report, “sexual misconduct,” encompasses several kinds of acts. It includes nonconsensual penetration or oral sex that occurs without the condition of force, violence, duress, menace or incapacitation that is involved in a sexual assault under state law and Stanford policy. Sexual misconduct also includes acts of sexual touching without consent and some acts of clothing removal without consent.

Another 14.2 percent of respondents, beyond those who indicated experiencing a sexual assault, reported having experiences in this category of sexual misconduct since beginning their degree program at Stanford.

Undergraduate women respondents had the highest rate of experiencing acts of sexual misconduct (32.9 percent), driven largely by high numbers of incidents of sexual touching without consent. The rates of experiencing sexual misconduct were 30.8 percent for gender-diverse undergraduates, 12.3 percent for male undergraduates, 10.1 percent for graduate women and 3.1 percent for graduate men, with the numbers of gender-diverse graduate students too small for disclosure without compromising student privacy.

“The prevalence of sexual misconduct, particularly for undergraduate women, is unexpectedly high and clearly reflects behavior that is not in keeping with our values,” Hennessy said. “In addition, results throughout the survey indicate that we must pay closer attention to the needs of gender-diverse students, who report higher levels of sexual misconduct and lower levels of satisfaction with the support services Stanford offers. We must make a concerted effort to respond more effectively to their needs and concerns.”

For students experiencing any kind of nonconsensual sexual act, 85 percent indicated the responsible person(s) for the most recent incident were Stanford students, and 71 percent indicated that it occurred in an on-campus residential building. Also, 41 percent said they did not have a prior relationship with the person(s) responsible for their most recent incident of nonconsensual sexual contact.

About 11 percent of respondents said they had experienced some form of stalking since starting at Stanford. The most commonly experienced stalking behavior was persistent phone calls, text messages or other communications from someone after the person was asked to stop. Other behaviors in this category include being watched or followed by someone and seeing negative things written about oneself online that made one feel unsafe. Again, women and gender-diverse respondents reported higher levels of these experiences than men.

Also, 5.3 percent of students who had been physically or romantically intimate with someone said they had experienced relationship violence at least once since starting their degree programs at Stanford. The rates of relationship violence were similar across gender identities. Most incidents involved acts such as being scratched, being shoved or having one’s arm twisted; more severe incidents were less common.

Campus efforts on support, education, adjudication

The climate survey results come as Stanford continues an aggressive set of efforts to prevent and respond to acts of sexual assault and misconduct. In recent years, Stanford has revised its policies, expanded educational and prevention efforts, created a dedicated Title IX Office and enhanced support resources for students.

Currently, the campus is working to implement recommendations of the Provost’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices. This faculty-student-staff group made a range of recommendations last spring for further enhancing campus support resources and for revising campus procedures for investigating and adjudicating reports of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking and relationship violence.

Implementation teams have worked over the summer on new adjudication procedures consistent with the task force recommendations. Those procedures are expected to be finalized and released to the campus community later this fall.

Meanwhile, the campus is working to expand its Confidential Support Team, enhancing the confidential counseling available to students in crisis or otherwise seeking assistance (reachable 24 hours per day at 650-736-6933 or 650-725-9955). Education on consent and bystander intervention was a major part of New Student Orientation for incoming undergraduates again this year, and also this year for the first time, all new graduate students are receiving online training on sexual assault and misconduct, as has already been the case for incoming undergraduates.

Following the departure of campus Title IX Coordinator Catherine Criswell Spear for a broader administrative position at the University of Virginia, Stanford’s Title IX Office is being led on an interim basis by Mark Zunich, who had been serving the campus already as one of two Title IX investigators. A national search for a permanent replacement is under way.

A comprehensive set of resources and contact information for students in crisis, as well as links to policy guidance and other materials, continues to be available on the university’s Not Alone website.

Student perspectives on campus climate, safety, training

In the climate survey, 84 percent of surveyed students reported feeling a sense of community at Stanford, and 87 percent said they feel extremely safe or very safe on the Stanford campus. The survey found that 87 percent thought it was likely Stanford would take any reports of sexual assault seriously, and 71 percent thought Stanford would treat someone accused of sexual assault fairly – again with lower numbers for gender-diverse students.

However, 77 percent of undergraduate respondents and 51 percent of graduate student respondents said they have witnessed sexist remarks or jokes about women at Stanford. And 56 percent of undergraduate respondents and 23 percent of graduate respondents indicated they had witnessed someone telling offensive jokes about lesbians, gay men or bisexual people at Stanford.

More than two-thirds of undergraduate respondents said they have received adequate or better education on preventing sexual assault, compared to 43 percent of graduate student respondents. (New online training was made available to graduate students after the launch of the climate survey.) Three-quarters of undergraduates self-reported that they understood the concept of consent well, compared to 55 percent of graduate students.

Among those surveyed, 57 percent of undergraduates and 50 percent of graduate students said if they needed to seek confidential help for themselves or a friend following unwanted sexual contact or harassment, they would know how to get that help.

Asked how effective Stanford’s support system is for students going through personal crises, 27 percent of undergraduate respondents and 56 percent of graduate respondents said they did not know or had no opinion. Among undergraduate women, 56 percent of those respondents who expressed an opinion on the subject said the support system was ineffective; the figure was 48 percent for undergraduate men expressing an opinion. In contrast, 85 percent of gender-diverse undergraduates expressing an opinion felt these services were inadequate.

Additional details are available in the full report.

Media Contacts

Lisa Lapin, University Communications: (650) 725-8396,