Manhattan College Surveys Students About Sexual Assault Climate On Campus


On March 16, all Manhattan College students received an email announcing the 2018 Sexual Assault Climate Survey which would be available to fill out starting March 19, and ending on April 29.

Assistant Vice President for Human Resources and Title IX, Vicki Cowan, sent the email to inform the students about the survey.

New York Education Law Article 129-B, also commonly known as Enough Is Enough, requires that institutions of higher education ask their students how they feel about the climate around sexual assault on campus.

Manhattan College started sending out a survey regarding this issue one year before the law went into effect. For the last three years, Manhattan College conducts its survey through an outside company, the Higher Education Data Consortium.

The survey has provided Manhattan with a way to asses the resources it offers its students and to hear from students what resources they feel are missing.

“There have been changes [because of past survey results]. Students have basically said ‘we need more resources’ and that the resources on campus aren’t enough,” said Cowan.

As a result of student responses, MC has partnered with Columbia- Presbyterian’s DOVE (Domestic & Other Violence Emergencies) Program which is a sexual assault response team, the Bronx District Attorney’s office which helped with this year’s Resident Assistant training. The governor’s office provided institutions of higher education funds to provide free sexual assault and harassment training and the NCAA has recently implemented new rules regarding the issue.

Despite all the resources that MC has recently developed, the accessibility of the resources does not change how challenging it can be for students to come forward and use them.

“I don’t think all students [feel safe coming forward], some do. It’s a personal thing that you have to deal with and you have to come forward and talk to people that basically look like your parents and you’re telling them something very personal and traumatic that happened to you. That’s not easy for students,” said Cowan.

Continuing, Cowan said, “If we can, we need to provide them with enough resources that they have multiple options and there has to be counseling – our counseling center is great, there’s more people there now, this DOVE program has an MSW that will come to campus. It’s not easy for students, sexual assault is not easy.”

In addition, The Manhattan College Community Standards and Student Code of Conduct encourages students to speak up about sexual misconduct, in order for the College to be able to properly discipline offenders.

The Manhattan College Community Standards and  Student Code of Conduct states:

“While the College is committed to increasing everyone’s level of understanding and sensitivity to appropriate conduct, where conduct does not comply with the standards set by the College, prompt corrective action will be taken. But the college can only do its job if it knows of alleged harassment and discrimination. An appropriate College official must be advised of unwelcome conduct so that the College can act to protect the members of the community.”

Even though there is the law requiring schools to create the survey and the positive changes it has inspired, it is often hard to get students to complete the survey.

Cowan said, “It’s hard because it’s usually done in the spring semester and by then, students are tired. They don’t want to do anymore surveys, seniors are looking at graduation, they’re looking at spring. It’s hard to try and get students to participate in the survey. They’re trying to get their grades up, They’re doing everything but it’s really important because it gives them an opportunity to say exactly how they feel.”

The data HEDC provides backs up Cowan’s claim. The survey has been out since March 19 and MC is only at a 6 percent participation rate; compared to other schools similar to Manhattan, MC falls in last place in participation percentages.

According to Cowan, data has shown that participation has been on the decline in the past few years but she thinks that social interest in the issue is higher now, citing the #MeToo movement as a source of social interest.

Other data the survey shows is the discrepancy between male and female students’ responses and understandings of the sexual assault climate on campus.

“In the survey, there was clearly a big difference between the way women felt about it and men felt about it,” said Cowan, “Men felt like ‘oh it’s not really a problem but the women were definitive like ‘yes this is a problem’ and you can see that specifically from the survey.”

Regardless of the gendered differences, student responses gave staff an understanding of how programs on campus were or weren’t working.

“Students really like the green dot program and think that there should be more programs like that or that we should continue with the green dot bystander intervention program

They also feel that there should be more training for staff, administrators and faculty, which we’re trying to do. Online training is not enough. There needs to be face-to-face training with the online training,” said Cowan.

Cowan has been reaching out to faculty, staff, administrators and student leaders asking for their help to encourage students to take the survey.

“I went to the commuter breakfast and I talked about this survey; if I get three or four students who would normally delete the email we sent out then that’s good. I reached out to faculty members, to the deans. There are more people I have to reach out to still,” said Cowan.

Cowan also reached out to the Resident Assistants, the LGBTQ+ club, those in attendance at Take Back The Night, and those in attendance at the second annual women’s conference.

“I think we have to do a better job of offering different things that are going to motivate students to stop and pay attention. That is up to us,” said Cowan.

Cowan feels there is still room for improvement in student involvement.

Cowan said, “My goal for next year is to try to start earlier and instead of using this poster and maybe have students – we have a lot of creative students – create the poster and then that way, we get them engaged. Then it’s not just ‘another survey we have to take’ but then it’s a contest and we have the students create the poster and they’re part of it.”

Cowan continued.

“However you can get students engaged is what we need to do. It’s not a one thing fits all. We have to be creative, think out of the box. And if you can’t think out of the box, then we have to get students more involved to help with that kind of thinking.”

Resident Assistants Erin Plitt and Roi Mase, who is the president of the LGBTQ+ club, organized an event for residents to learn more information about the survey and its purpose.

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Important offices, hours and phone numbers students should know. SEXUAL ASSAULT CLIMATE SURVEY / COURTESY

Plitt hopes to inspire residents to complete the survey and encourages them to take the topic seriously.

“As an RA I am a leader for my residents, when I take something like sexual assault seriously my residents are likely to follow.  It is so important that we establish a community on campus that does not tolerate sexual assault and domestic violence,” said Plitt. “As a woman who has a floor consisting of mostly females residents I want nothing but the best for them and I would feel I am doing all my residents a great injustice if I did not educate on sexual assault.”

While Plitt understands how difficult it may be for students to come forward with information about sexual assault, she offers residents the possibility of reaching out to different resources, including a Resident Assistant.

“There are so many resources on and off campus if you are struggling or watching someone you care about struggle with sexual assault or domestic violence.  It can be so hard to come forward with your story but know that your RA will always listen,” said Plitt. “Even if you do not feel comfortable telling an RA the whole story they can point you in the direction of help.  You are never to blame for sexual assault or domestic violence and, though it may not always feel that way, there is a huge support system here on campus that will help at any time of the day or night.”

What Cowan wants students to take away from their participation in the survey is that their responses do matter and that their voices will be heard.

“I just want to encourage students to actually take the time to take the survey because it’s important. Even if you’re graduating this year, you’re a senior and you’re mind is not really on taking a survey, do it to help the students that are still going to be here. The reason the flier says ‘your voice matters, knowledge is power, make a difference’ is because students can make a difference,” said Cowan.