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October 24, 2017

More Than Half of Cornell Students in Survey Say They’ve Been Harassed

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The University released campus sexual violence survey results, which showed that over half of students said they have experienced sexual or gender-based harassment since attending Cornell, and of those, close to one in five either felt harassment had to be tolerated or that it created a hostile campus climate.

Rates of harassment on campus are highest among women, particularly undergraduates, and transgender and gender-nonconforming students, the survey said. Harassment prevalence is also higher among LGBTQ students, students of color, students with disabilities and those in partnered relationships.

In addition to the 55 percent of students who said they had experienced harassment, 11 percent of students said they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact resulting from physical force, threats of physical force or incapacitation at Cornell, the survey said. These rates are consistent with those reported on the University’s 2015 survey.

“Sexual assault and related misconduct — including sexual and gender-based harassment, dating and domestic violence, and stalking — is a serious problem, occurring with unacceptable frequency on campuses across the country, including our own,” wrote Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, and Dr. Dana Zappetti, associate dean of student affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine, in a message to the Cornell community on Tuesday.

Calling these statistics “disturbing,” the administrators wrote that as a campus community, “we can and will do more to create a climate where everyone is safe, respected and has access to appropriate support resources.”

The 2017 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct measures student knowledge of the University’s policies, procedures and resources and their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and related misconduct on campus. It also assesses obstacles that prevent students from using available resources to identify and intervene during high-risk situations.

New York state law requires that all in-state universities conduct a survey of campus sexual violence every two years.

A stratified, random sample of 6,000 students enrolled at Ithaca and New York City-based Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses received email invitations to participate in the survey, according to the 2017 survey. A total of 2,238 students completed the survey for a response rate of 37 percent. This rate doubles the 19 percent response rate from the University’s 2015 survey.

Students who experienced harassment were most likely to talk to a friend (71 percent) about nonconsensual sexual contact, followed by a spouse or romantic partner (19 percent). However, only about one-fifth of students (19 percent) contacted a Cornell- or community-based resource, according to the 2017 survey.

“While it is encouraging that the number of students aware of these resources continues to increase, the overwhelming likelihood is that a student will talk to a friend about their experience before seeking help from campus- or community-based resources, and we need to recognize and reinforce the importance of the roles every person in our community plays in advancing the culture we seek,” Opperman said in The Cornell Chronicle.

Women who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact almost exclusively identified their perpetrators as being men, the survey showed. Students most commonly reported the offender as someone known to them, either as a friend or acquaintance (38 percent), someone they had just met at a social event (32 percent) or a current intimate partner (24 percent).

Alcohol was also involved in most harassment incidents, with two-thirds or more of students reporting that the perpetrator (71 percent) and/or the victim (67 percent) had consumed alcohol prior to the incident. The survey showed the most common locations for nonconsensual sexual contact for undergraduates were at fraternity chapter houses, residence halls, or off-campus housing unofficially affiliated with a student club.

More than two-thirds of students who said they had witnessed another student being sexually harassed intervened to disrupt the situation, the survey showed, and most students who did not intervene said they were uncertain about what to do.

While the survey indicated an increase in awareness of available campus resources since the 2015 survey, a small percentage of respondents felt knowledgeable about how to make anonymous reports (24 percent) or file formal complaints of sexual assault (29 percent), or of the process that occurs after a student has filed a formal complaint (19 percent).