We Speak Survey Results Letter

Sept. 29, 2015

September 29, 2015

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

The University today posted the findings of the We Speak survey that was distributed to all students last spring to learn more about their knowledge and experiences of sexual misconduct at Princeton and their awareness of Princeton’s policies, procedures, and resources. The survey was designed in consultation with the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct and other campus partners, with the understanding that its findings would be used to inform campus programming and other proactive and preventive steps to provide a safe and supportive environment.

As is the case at other universities that recently released the results of similar surveys, the findings at Princeton are heartbreaking. They demonstrate that too many of our students, classmates, and friends have been victims of sexual misconduct and violence on this campus. They also underscore the urgent need for all of us to do more. We must create a climate in which all members of our community respect and care for one another; we must provide students with the information they need to get help and support if they are the victims of misconduct; and we must ensure that our disciplinary processes are fair, effective, and compassionate.

Among other findings, the survey found that

  • 20 percent of all students who responded—including 34 percent of undergraduate women, 14 percent of undergraduate men, 19 percent of graduate student women, and 6 percent of graduate student men—reported that they had experienced inappropriate sexual behavior last year, defined to include nonconsensual sexual contact, stalking, sexual harassment, and an abusive intimate relationship.
  • 13 percent of all students who responded—including 27 percent of undergraduate women, 9 percent of undergraduate men, 8 percent of graduate student women, and 2 percent of graduate student men—reported that they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact (commonly known as sexual assault).
  • 4 percent of all students who responded—including 8 percent of undergraduate women, 3 percent of undergraduate men, 2 percent of graduate student women, and 1 percent of graduate student men—reported that they had experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration (commonly known as rape).

All of these numbers are disturbingly and unacceptably high, and behind the numbers are Princeton students who have been abused or subjected to sexual violence. These are painful experiences that can leave scars that last a lifetime, and they can have a corrosive effect not only on the individuals involved, but on our sense of security, mutual trust, and community.

Perhaps the only positive things to be said about these numbers are that they make vivid to all of us the seriousness of the problem, and they provide information that may help us to address it. More than half of Princeton students (52 percent) completed the survey, a higher response rate than at most universities. That strong response rate enhances the reliability of our data, and I want to express my appreciation to all of you who participated.

Among the survey’s findings was that 38 percent of Princeton students who experience nonconsensual sexual contact tell no one about the incident. It also revealed that many students do not take advantage of the support and counsel available to them through our highly regarded office of Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE). While two‑thirds of students said they know where to go on campus to get help once a sexual assault has occurred, there are too many students who do not know where to go for help, how to report sexual assault, or what happens when an assault is reported. We need to make sure students know about all of the resources available to them and that they feel fully respected and supported when they come forward.

More importantly still, we need to take further steps to prevent inappropriate behavior and to reduce the incidence of all forms of sexual misconduct. The survey data may help us to do that. The data indicate, for example, that alcohol was a factor in more than 70 percent of the sexual misconduct incidents reported in responses to the survey. We need to understand better the relationship between sexual misconduct and the consumption of alcohol, and we need to find ways to reduce the harms and risks that result from the misuse of alcohol on this campus.

I am grateful to the members of the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct, co‑chaired by Professor Deborah Nord and Vice Provost Michele Minter, for designing the survey and for its continuing efforts to improve our University’s policies and culture. The committee will conduct open meetings at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) in McCosh 10 and at noon on Friday in McCormick 101 to hear from members of the University community about the report and to solicit suggestions about how to act on it. This topic will also be on the agenda for the meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) on October 12 at 4:30 p.m. in 101 Friend Center, and I will stay after the meeting if students or others wish to have a more extended discussion.

I hope that you will join me in supporting some of the important programs that we have, on the basis of the committee’s advice and recommendations, recently launched to increase awareness and prevent inappropriate sexual behavior. These programs include the UMatter initiative that began earlier this month. This initiative encourages students and others to be effective bystanders, make healthy choices, care for others, and take action to engage in healthy behaviors or prevent harmful situations. The UMatter program focuses not only on conveying information but also on teaching skills that students can use to make a difference.

Another recent initiative is a reference card that has been prepared by our Title IX office to help students know where they can turn for support, confidential counseling, or to report an incident. The card is available through that office’s website.

The survey found that almost half of our students (49 percent) believe they can do something about sexual violence on campus. I believe it is possible for each and every one of us to do something to change the campus climate, to change our expectations about how we behave toward each other, to intervene when appropriate, and to suggest policies and programs that can make a positive difference. I am eager to hear the further recommendations of the Nord-Minter committee as well as the suggestions of other members of our community, and to act on ideas that will improve the climate and culture on this campus.

Chris Eisgruber