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Students refuse to take national sexual-assault survey because it’s ‘triggering’

Others accuse their school of trying to keep victims from taking the survey

This month, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness month, 28 universities across the country are asking students to anonymously share their knowledge of and experiences with sexual assault and misconduct on campus.

The “climate survey” by the Association of American Universities has already faced criticism from students and some faculty, citing its potential to “trigger” victims of sexual assault among other reasons.

The association seeks to “document the frequency and characteristics of campus sexual assault and sexual harassment, and assess campus climate in a way that allows for comparability of data across institutions and that protects the confidentiality of respondents,” it said in a press release.

The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor’s Michigan Daily reported that some students who participated in the survey “said they stopped taking or were advised by friends against taking the AAU survey due to triggering imagery and wording.”

The student director of the university’s “I Will” campaign, which promotes the disputed assertion that one in four women will be “survivors” of sexual assault by the time they graduate, told the Daily the survey was “definitely triggering.”

“If something did happen to you and you are truthfully answering the survey, then you are reopening a wound that was not explicitly chosen before hand,” said Hannah Crisler.

Michigan State University ran into problems administering the survey, including to those students who claim they were sexually assaulted, according to The State News.

About 2,900 students out of 44,000, “many of them” alleged victims who are fearful of being stalked, have “restricted their directory information” and didn’t get the survey in their email.

Though the school has promised to resend the survey to those students, President Lou Anna Simon told a committee meeting “the number of students who weren’t sent the survey would not significantly affect the results.”

Student Megan Hughey told the News she felt that victims of sexual assault were purposely not being included in the survey sample because “ultimately they don’t want to know what people who’ve actually experienced sexual assault think.”

The AAU survey is purported to be “the largest ever on sexual assault” as the combined total of expected participants include “over 800,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students,” according to estimates from the organization.

“We have an excellent cross-section of our institutions – about half public and half private, rural and urban, with a range of sizes,” AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in the group’s January release.

Yet most of the 62 member institutions in the association have opted out of conducting the survey.

Princeton University Vice Provost Michelle Minter described the survey creators as “good researchers” but told The Daily Princetonian “there hasn’t been enough information to determine whether [the survey] would allow for customization and other things we were concerned about.” Princeton developed its own survey.

A coalition of professors who study sexual assault has also spoken out against the AAU survey.

The College Fix has reported on two of them – the University of Oregon’s Jennifer Freyd and the University of Arizona’s Mary Koss – for promoting questionable statistics on the prevalence of campus sexual assault

In a letter to the survey’s independent review board in January, the professors said the survey “has the potential to vastly underestimate the true scope of sexual victimization,” and “the harms of implementing this survey exceed the potential benefits for participants, science, and society.”

They complained that the survey would use random sampling to draw conclusions instead of using an aggregate of all of the responses, which “misleads students by implying they have a voice in the data for their campus, when most participants actually will not,” the professors said.

College Fix reporter Julianne Stanford is a student at the University of Arizona.

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About the Author
Julianne Stanford -- University of Arizona