Campus sexual assault is a piercing reminder of the violence that lives in student communities across the nation. The spate of media stories in the last year about college rapists seemingly going unpunished is demoralizing. And the extent of the problem is hotly debated. The Center for Public Integrity has reached disturbing conclusions about how some institutions gather and report sexual assault data.
Formed last year, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault found that one of the most pressing issues of campus sexual violence is identifying the scope of the problem. Its first report recommends the use of campus climate surveys to assess how frequently students experience assault.
Jacquelyn White (2012-13 Congressional Fellow sponsored by American Psychological Association) is working hard on devising a survey she hopes will become the gold standard. Institutions under investigation for Title IX violations (as of May 2014) are feeling an urgent need to conduct a scientifically sound survey upon which to base their prevention and education efforts. Among those under investigation is one of the campuses of her own institution, University of North Carolina (UNC).
Jackie White spoke about “Psychological Science and Policy: Insights from a Year on Capitol Hill” at an Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) meeting in Long Beach, California, February 2015. | SPSP
“It’s an opportune time for those with the most research experience around the assessment of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct to step up and contribute to the development of the best survey possible. We want to get the science out in front of the proposed legislation that would mandate surveys by institutions that receive federal funding,” said White, emerita professor of psychology at UNC at Greensboro. “A survey rooted in the best science is the best possibility for improving the safety and well-being of students.”
The fellowship literally changed my life. I have a deeper appreciation for the need, as well as the possibility, for research-informed policy. In learning strategies to connect science with policy, I have gained the courage to make a difference. I now have tools for interacting with policy experts and congressional offices. The fellowship experience removed the intimidation factor.
White is working with a group of researchers, campus administrators, and policy advocates to ensure that campus climate surveys are based on the most reliable empirical evidence. The collaborative effort facilitates communication between various stakeholders to better inform legislation. At the group’s Madison Summit for Campus Climate and Sexual Misconduct in February, 22 researchers, educators, and student affairs and Title IX administrators worked on creating an evidence-based survey. The survey will be piloted by several schools this spring. After review and testing, the survey will be made available for all campuses to use free of charge by the fall 2015 academic year.