2015 campus climate survey highlights consent challenge

by Adam Torgerson,


In 2013, President Thorsett charged the newly created President’s Working Group on Sexual Assault and Harassment to partner with the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force to review and make recommendations about the university’s sexual assault prevention and education efforts; to response to reported incidents; to create policies and procedures; and to review the services and care available to university community members affected by sexual misconduct.

As part of the group’s work, they undertook a campus climate survey and reported the results in the April 2014 “Sexual Safety at Willamette University: Findings and Recommendations" (PDF). The results and working group’s recommendations are described in detail within the report, which is available at willamette.edu/go/pwgsah.

The 2014 report includes a list of recommendations, some related to the survey’s findings. All of the recommendations have been implemented or are being implemented. On our site, you can find more about the specific actions taken or underway (PDF) at the time.

Here are just a few of the specific actions taken since the working group shared its report:

Implementation of information systems for tracking and adjudicating potential instances of bias and sexual misconduct, including development of Willamette’s online, anonymous reporting tool.
Mandatory training for all campus community members, including enhanced training for new faculty and staff.
Reorganization of responsible staff, including the Title IX Coordinator position (responsible for compliance with federal anti-discrimination regulations), which now reports directly to President Thorsett.
Creation of the Office of Community Support and Standards, led by Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life Domanic Thomas, to handle conduct issues, investigations and related support services.
Hiring a full-time Director of Educational Equity Assurance to lead sexual misconduct investigations and serve as the deputy coordinator for Title IX.
Hiring a full-time Director of Community Education, Carli Rohner, to lead outreach and prevention programs.

Willamette is committed to addressing sexual harassment and violence — a critical issue for communities and colleges across the world. Surveys are important tools that help us gauge the campus climate and evaluate the effectiveness of our programs, and  the alignment among responses from year-to-year gives us a high degree of confidence in the results. 

Thank you to the students who completed the 2015 survey and for taking the time to review the results of “Campus Climate Regarding Sexual Assault & Harassment 2015.” 

If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone.  For information about confidential support services, prevention resources, sexual misconduct policies and staff contacts, please visit willamette.edu/notalone

2015 Survey

Other than the addition of a new question and two additional responses for an existing question, the 2015 climate survey is the same as the 2013 survey. The new question asks whether students have experienced cyberbullying, and the two new responses assess awareness of “Not Alone” cards in campus restrooms and our online sexual misconduct reporting form. 


Of the 2,548 undergraduate and graduate students invited to participate in 2015, 1,171 responded (45% response rate), yielding 1,137 submissions in which students answered at least one-third of the questions or in which they indicated that they had experienced some form of gender-based bias, harassment or sexual assault. This is comparable with the 2013 survey, which yielded 1,123 submissions.  

Women comprise about six in ten of the undergraduate responses and half of graduate student responses. Less than ten people identified themselves as “Transgender,” a small but critical group that’s disproportionately affected by gender-based bias. One in seven respondents report an ethnicity other than Caucasian, the same proportion of students who didn’t report an ethnicity.   


The difference between how safe students feel during the day and at night is comparable with results from earlier Willamette surveys and national averages, but fewer students in 2015 report feeling safe on our campus at night: 66%, down from 83% in 2013. 

Increased communication from Campus Safety and prominent cases of individual misconduct may contribute to this perception. As reflected in survey results, we have strong empirical evidence that the prevalence of sexual misconduct hasn’t materially changed. University staff will continue to monitor this issue and will consider ways to address this perception as part of its overall sexual health education and outreach efforts. 

Figure 1 – Feeling Safe: Day vs. Night

Figure: Feeling Safe

Students’ perceptions about the importance of reducing sexual harassment and violence as well as sentiment about the university’s response and commitment to its students remained about the same as in past surveys. Two in three respondents agreed that the university “responds to sexual harassment in a serious manner,” which is unchanged from the 2013 survey. In comparison, 63% answered affirmatively to a similar question in the 2015 Association of American Universities’ survey of 27 research universities. This perception is tough to dispel, and the survey underscores the need to continue strengthening programmatic communications to address more clearly Willamette’s approach to addressing sexual misconduct and campus climate.  

Figure 2– Perceptions

Figure 2: Perceptions

Resources, Education and Prevention

Responses suggest that increased outreach is working, especially among our graduate students. In 2015, four in five respondents — undergraduates and graduate students — reported receiving sexual harassment and assault training through campus resources. This compares to 64% of undergraduates and 22% of graduate students in 2013. 

Results also indicate a relatively large attitudinal shift regarding the likelihood students would intervene if they saw someone tell a sexual joke about another person or make a joke about sexual violence. Intervention is a key aspect of our outreach efforts and a critical part of fostering a shared sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of people in our community.

Three-quarters of students say they’re aware of services available through Bishop Wellness Center and Sexual Assault Response Allies (SARA), and about seven in ten are aware of the Salem Police Department’s services, as well as confidential care available by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at Salem Hospital.

Less than half of respondents indicated they wouldn’t use or weren’t aware of the following resources:

Online reporting through the Sexual Misconduct Report form
Reporting to the Office of Rights and Responsibilities
Consultation with Community Mentors
Counseling through the Chaplain’s Office
Requesting a No-Contact Order through Campus Safety
Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Center (now the Center for Hope & Safety)

Understanding Consent: Myth Adherence 

The survey includes a hypothetical situation involving an encounter between two undergraduates who’ve been drinking. Questions are designed to evaluate students’ understanding of consent, and, unfortunately, our results show that Willamette’s students generally have similar misconceptions as other students. 

While undergraduate responses show slight improvement in understanding consent, graduate student responses show significant improvement since 2013. This is almost certainly a result of increased, systematic outreach to these campus communities. 

Figure 3 – Myth Adherence: Student Agreement

“Sarah and Joe went out last night. They were both drinking alcohol during the date. Sarah says Joe forced her to have sex. She says that while they were kissing, she turned away from him to show him she did not want to have sex, but Joe pushed himself on her.”

Students 2015 2013 '15-'13
"This can't be considered sexual assault because they were both drinking alcohol." Undergraduate 90% 93% -3%
Graduate 83% 85% -2%
"Sarah and Joe are partially responsible for what happened." Undergraduate 61% 56% 5%
Graduate 63% 50% 13%
"Sarah might be saying Joe forced her to have sex because she agreed to have sex but later regretted it." Undergraduate 61% 57% 4%
Graduate 54% 40% 14%
"Joe might have sexually assaulted Sarah unintentionally." Undergraduate 30% 32% -2%
Graduate 46% 30% 16%
"Joe might assume that Sarah agreed to have sex because she didn't say 'no' verbally." Undergraduate 24% 22% 2%
Graduate 43% 30% 13%


Sexual harassment and assault comprise a wide range of behaviors, from unwanted attention to forcible sexual assault. Comparisons with other survey results must consider the scope of this question, which is broadly construed in our survey. 

For example, 14% of current women students indicated in our 2015 survey that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted while at Willamette. This is consistent with the national average and past surveys of Willamette students. Likewise, one in four women students report some form of sexual harassment or assault during their college years, which aligns with past surveys of Willamette students and estimates from large surveys by the Department of Justice and others.

Most instances of sexual harassment and assault occur in the first two years of college, and women report most frequently. In Willamette’s 2013 survey, a higher proportion of transgender students reported being sexually harassed, which prompted the addition of a new question targeting cyberbullying. The 2015 survey also adds responses to questions about awareness of support and reporting resources. 

Because there are so few students who self-identified as transgender (5 in 2013 and 9 in 2015), a single response represents a relatively large proportion of the group of transgender students. We include these responses in Appendix 1: “Response Summary and Comparison,” which also shows the number of students responding by gender. 


As the comparison shows, instances of sexual assault have remained consistent. 

Appendix 1 includes reports from transgender students, a population at greater risk of experiencing sexual harassment. In response to transgender student concerns, the latest survey asks a new question about cyberbullying. All results are presented as proportions, which can be misleading given the small number of people self-reporting as transgender.

Figure 4 – Reporting: Sexual Harassment and Assault

2015 2013 '15-'13
"Being sexually touched without your consent." Overall 11% 8% 3%
Female 14% 16% -2%
Male 6% 5% 1%
"Attempted sexual penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) without your consent." Overall 6% 6% 0%
Female 7% 8% -1%
Male 3% 1% 2%
"Sexual penetration (vaginal, anal, oral) without your consent." Overall 4% 4% 0%
Female 6% 5% 1%
Male 2% 2% 0%
Reported attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual penetration Overall 6% 6% 0%
Female 8% 9% -1%
Male 4% 2% 2%
"I have been sexually harassed or assaulted while at Willamette." Overall 10% 11% -1%
Female 14% 16% -2%
Male 4% 4% 0%


As was the case with earlier surveys, Willamette students’ responses to the 2015 climate survey are highly aligned with past students’ responses and with responses to similar questions from prior surveys of students at other U.S. colleges. With consistent agreement among survey responses from independent sources — including our campus surveys, third-party surveys of Willamette students, and other published survey data from other students — we have high confidence in the results.

While responses are largely unchanged from two years ago, the survey highlights continued need for addressing nighttime safety concerns, strengthening students’ understanding of consent and awareness of resources available to people affected by sexual misconduct in particular. 

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please contact Jackie Balzer, Special Assistant to the President for Student Success and University Title IX Coordinator. 

If you or someone you know has been subject to any unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, you are not alone. Find confidential support resources, online complaint form, and information about our bystander prevention program, Green Dot, at willamette.edu/notalone.


Appendix 1: 2015-13 Response Summary and Comparison (PDF)


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