One year after the results of the AAU sexual assault survey, a look at what's changed

Exactly one year has passed since the release of the results of the Association of American Universities’ Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct.

When the results came out, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price called them “deeply troubling,” in an email sent to students.

The survey was sponsored by the Association of American Universities, which was chaired by Gutmann at the time. Twenty-eight universities, including Penn and every other Ivy except Princeton University, participated in the survey.

The AAU survey found that only 10.7 percent of respondents knew Penn’s definition of sexual assault, and only 12.6 percent knew where to make a report of sexual violence.

27 percent of Penn undergraduate women reported nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching since entering college. Of the seven Ivies that participated, only Yale University and Dartmouth College had higher rates of nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching.

Still, only 14.1 percent of Penn students believed that sexual assault is a problem on campus, compared to a national rate of 20.2 percent and even higher rates at the other Ivy League schools.

Penn Association for Gender Equity Chair and College and Wharton senior Megan Yan said that there were two main lessons from the AAU survey: Many students who were affected by sexual assault did not go to resource centers or report their assaults, and several minority groups — including women of color and LGBTQ students — were disproportionately affected.

“What really hurt about that, is that I don’t think that statistic really surprised people,” said Yan, a former Business Manager of The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I think that statistic brought to light what we already knew and just mobilized and catalyzed the discussion about it,” she said.

Yan praised the work of the administration, especially the Penn Violence Prevention office, but emphasized the need for greater efforts to publicize resources available through the school and through student groups like PAGE.

She also believes students need to have difficult conversations about sexual assault on campus, instead of becoming jaded and accepting these problems as inevitable.

“I think we’re going to see change happen,” Yan added. “It’s always gradual, it’s always slowly, there always has to be a lot of education and conversation that goes into it first. But programs like PAVE [Penn Anti-Violence Educators], groups like ASAP [Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention] and MARS [Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault], have done a lot to try and work on that as well.”

In the year that’s passed since the survey results came out, the administration has taken several steps to address the issue of sexual violence. Here’s a look at their main efforts.

Getting student feedback

After the survey results were released on Sept. 21, 2015, Gutmann and Price promised to arrange meetings with student leaders across campus to discuss how best to tackle the problem.

The administration did follow through on that promise. In addition to communicating with student groups and campus leaders, a public discussion about the survey’s findings was held in November 2015.

Expanding Thrive at Penn

Soon after the results were released, the Thrive at Penn pre-orientation module was made available to all undergraduates. The module covers four topics, one of which is healthy relationships and sexual violence prevention.

Earlier this semester, completion of the module was mandated for all upperclassmen as a requirement to register for spring 2017 classes. The decision was intended to ensure all students are familiar with the resources available to them at Penn, according to Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning Rob Nelson.

Revising student surveys

The University also revised regular institutional surveys to include questions about sexual assault, starting with the senior survey for the Class of 2016.

Immediately before that senior survey was released, Nelson told The Daily Pennsylvanian that these new questions would be especially geared toward gauging knowledge about resources for victims and measuring perceptions of sexual assault on campus.

Widening available resources

The Penn Violence Prevention office — a program housed in the Division of the Vice Provost of University Life and supported by the Penn Women’s Center — tripled in staff, welcoming Associate Director Malik Washington and Program Coordinator Katie Chockley. They joined Director Jessica Mertz, who has been working on violence prevention at Penn since 2009.

Following the release of the AAU results, Penn Violence Prevention set up three working teams of administrative staff to examine the role of sexual violence prevention among LGBTQ students, among graduate and professional students and with regard to men and masculinity.

These teams resulted in a number of policy changes: Creating a version of the Thrive at Penn module specifically for graduate and professional students, expanding Penn Anti-Violence Educators (PAVE) to include graduate students and prioritizing outreach to LGBTQ and international students, as well as athletes.

Doubling down on current projects

PAVE has doubled its number of undergraduate educators. Since the beginning of this semester, PAVE has held three workshops, including one for the football team, and has committed to giving violence prevention workshops to all varsity sports teams at Penn.

Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum emphasized in a written statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the University’s “very substantial increase” in VPUL sexual violence funding has enabled the expansion of program support, including the expansion of the PVP office and an increase in program outreach funding.

“The President and Provost worked with us in VPUL very closely to make important investments in sexual violence education, programming and survivor support since the AAU report was issued, and the growth, and reach, in the important work of student peer educators has also been phenomenal,” she wrote.

Amending policies

Penn also made two changes to the Sexual Violence, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy during the summer.

These policy changes clarified the reporting process for members of the Penn community who experience interpersonal violence and clarified the difference between confidential and responsible resources.

Confidential resources include the African-American Resource Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, the LGBT Center, the Office of the Chaplain, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Education, the Women’s Center, the Special Services Center and Student Health Services and information shared with confidential resources will generally remain private unless the person sharing the information gives their consent to its disclosure.