story Vivian Wang
Yale Daily News staff reporter

Yale University has signed up to participate in a survey being conducted throughout the United States about sexual assault in higher education—one of the largest such polls in history.

The survey, to be coordinated by the Association of American Universities (AAU)—of which Yale is a member—is intended to help universities gain a better understanding of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, AAU President Hunter Rawlings said in a Jan. 22 press release. He added that each participating university will distribute the questionnaire to its students, and the subsequent results will inform future policy decisions by college administrators.

AAU Vice President for Public Affairs Barry Toiv said the survey is expected to reach nearly 900,000 students nationwide and will provide school-specific information as well as aggregate national data. “This [survey] will provide a treasure trove of data on national student experiences and attitudes,” Mr. Toiv said. The survey drew participation from 28 universities. Participation was made entirely optional to the AAU’s 62 member institutions, Mr. Toiv said.

Yale signed up for the survey to gain a better understanding of the issue of sexual assault, both at the University and on other campuses, said Deputy Provost and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler.

Some of the universities that chose not to participate have their own internal surveys that are either already complete or planned for the near future. Ricardo Alcaíno, Title IX coordinator for the University of California Santa Barbara, said all of the California public schools declined the offer because they had conducted an extensive California-system-wide survey just a few years ago.

“A lot of the information has been very useful, and we’re still digesting it,” he said. “We’re trying to drill down on what we have, and we’re still in that process, so we didn’t necessarily want to jump into another survey process.”

Mr. Alcaíno added that a school-specific survey is not necessarily better than a nationwide survey. The California schools will be eager to see the results of the AAU survey when they are published, he said.

When asked about how applicable aggregate data is to an individual university’s policies, Ms. Spangler said more information is always welcome.

“The better we understand the problem, the better we can address it,” she said.

Alexa Derman ’18, Yale Women’s Center public relations coordinator, said members of her organization are glad the issue is receiving widespread attention and stimulating coordinated action between universities.

According to the press release, the same survey will be administered to all participating universities. However, each survey will also have five campus-specific questions that are designed to gauge students’ familiarity with the resources available at their own schools.

Mr. Toiv declined to comment further on the contents of the survey, but he added that its composition will be based on an instrument designed by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. US President Barack Obama commissioned this task force in January 2014 to streamline and consolidate the federal government’s response to rape on college campuses.

Several member universities, including Yale, have also had the chance to provide feedback on the survey instrument, Spangler said.

When the Yale College Council and Women’s Center jointly released their own survey on sexual assault on Jan. 14, none of the students interviewed by the News said they had completed it, although several said they intended to eventually. To maximize responses to the AAU survey, Mr. Toiv said, the AAU will utilize multiple incentives, including a lottery.

“We … hope the survey will help policymakers gain a better understanding of the problem, and that it will make a significant contribution to the growing body of research on sexual assault,” Mr. Rawlings said in the press release. He did not return requests for comment.

The survey will be offered beginning in April.

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