Jennifer Freyd, a longtime researcher and advocate against sexual violence, has been pleased to see so much focus in recent years on campus rape. But the University of Oregon psychology professor has also been worried.
As a record number of universities have come under federal investigations for allegations they mishandled rape and harassment cases, it seemed like every week a new app, consulting group, conference or educational program cropped up to help colleges improve their responses to sexual assault — as long as the schools were willing to pay a price. In some cases, including at UO, Freyd said, schools would rather spend close to six figures on a product that promised to address the problem than engage with faculty to devise their own program.
“I am very concerned about the profiteering going on,” Freyd told The Huffington Post. “I don’t think people should be making businesses out of responding to college sexual assault and getting rich off it. It strikes me as very dangerous — as soon as you have a profit motive in there, it’s risked to corrupting. You should not get rich over people getting raped.”
Rather than sit idly by, Freyd and a group of 22 administrators and researchers have quietly been meeting to take matters into their own hands. The result is a group called the Administrator Researcher Campus Climate Consortium, or ARC3.
This week, ARC3 plans to release a campus climate survey online that any college can use free of charge. This survey can help assess how many students experience sexual assault and harassment, as well as their perceptions of how their school handles these issues. Getting a better understanding on those things can help a school be proactive and even prevent students from being raped in the first place, say experts, activists and advocates.
ARC3 has also gathered the best studies related to campus rape and will distribute them on itswebsite.
In general, “campus administrators are kind of clueless,” said Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin-Madison women’s studies professor involved in ARC3. “The relatively less-informed ones will say, ‘Oh, great, I’ll pay $50,000 to a consultant and it’ll solve all my problems.'”
Hyde said she can’t recall another time researchers, frustrated by current approaches to an issue like campus sexual assault, banded together to take things into their own hands.
“This was institutional research that wasn’t going right and an alternative to the institutional research was created,” she said, “and that’s very rare.”
ARC3 includes the leading researchers on college sexual assault, including Mary Koss, whose work in the1980s has been credited with coining the phrases “date rape” and “campus rape,” as well as helping inform our understanding of them. The group also counts Noël Busch-Armendariz, who’s leading what is shaping up to be the nation’s most comprehensivecollege rape study, among its members, as well as Bucknell University psychology researcher Bill Flack, who just left this week to begin work on addressing sexual harassment and assault at European universities.
“It just seems to me, it’s better if everybody’s on the same page and working on the same issue,” Flack said. Some schools may have “concerns about bad PR, but I think the places that are gonna do this in a smart way realize that being straightforward and above-board about all of this is how to get out ahead of the issue.”
“You Can’t Just Ask A Student, ‘Have You Ever Been Raped?'”
Last fall, the American Association of Universities, an elite higher education trade group, pushed schools to use a campus climate survey it was developing.
Many researchers, including Freyd, bristled when it was introduced. The survey was being designed behind closed doors and would be deployed by the research corporation Westat. The cost of using the survey was $80,000, and schools couldn’t see it before committing. There was also no promise that results from individual campuses would be published — which might be appealing for a school trying to hide incriminating student responses, but would not benefit the greater mission of addressing widespread campus sexual assault.
“They are very sensitive topics, and it’s not easy to assess correctly,” said Kevin Swartout, a Georgia State University professor overseeing the results of ARC3’s surveys. “You can’t just ask a student, ‘Have you ever been raped?’ or ‘Have you ever committed rape?’ They’re never going to endorse it even if it has happened, because there’s a stigma. You need to be very careful.”
The coalition against the AAU survey steadily grew to about 60 researchers. Some members floated the idea of creating their own survey, “to not just complain about it but provide an alternative,” Freyd said.