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Survey shows decrease in undergraduate sexual harassment, assault at MSU

January 19, 2023
<p>Attendees had the opportunity to view the Know More @ MSU Campus Survey results during the presentation. The Know More Campus Climate Survey Lunch and Learn was hosted on Feb. 4, 2020 at the MSU Union. </p>

Attendees had the opportunity to view the Know More @ MSU Campus Survey results during the presentation. The Know More Campus Climate Survey Lunch and Learn was hosted on Feb. 4, 2020 at the MSU Union.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Results from the second-ever Know More Survey show a decline in rates of sexual harassment, sexual assault, workplace incivility and/or other harm experienced by members of the campus community since 2019.

The survey was introduced in 2019 as a way to assess perceptions, policies and culture surrounding relationship violence and sexual misconduct, or RVSM, on campus. The second iteration of the survey was sent to all undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff in the spring of 2022. 

More than 11,500 surveys were completed and analyzed. In an email releasing the survey results to the MSU community, interim president Teresa Woodruff thanked Spartans for “working together to foster an environment that is more respectful to each other and is supportive of survivors.”

“Time and again, I have seen your strength and commitment to making Michigan State University, not only a world-class institution of higher education, research and outreach, but a place where everyone can feel safe, respected and welcomed,” Woodruff said in the email.

Data is categorized into three gender identity groups based on self-reported identities: cisgender woman, cisgender man, and transgender and/or nonbinary. Transgender and nonbinary respondents were grouped together “in an effort to create groups with enough respondents to enable analysis,” the report said. 

All data refers to the 2021-2022 academic year.

Student experiences with victimization

Sexual harassment was the most prevalent form of victimization experienced by students across all gender groups. The survey showed 61% of undergraduate cisgender women, 35.7% of undergraduate cisgender men and 72.8% of undergraduate transgender/nonbinary students reporting sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment experiences were less common for graduate and professional students, though it was still the highest reported form of victimization. A total of 37.5% of cisgender women graduate/professional students, 17.3% of cisgender men graduate/professional students and 65.1% of transgender/nonbinary graduate/professional students experienced sexual harassment.

The survey also asked about the specific types of sexual harassment students had or had not experienced. The most common types of sexual harassment reported were “inappropriate or offensive comments about your or someone else’s body, appearance, or sexual activities” and “someone referring to people of your gender in insulting or offensive terms.”

The second most prevalent form of victimization was intimate partner violence, experienced by 13% of cisgender women undergraduates, 8.1% of cisgender men undergraduates and 17.3% of transgender/nonbinary undergraduates.

For undergraduate cisgender women, sexual assault was the third highest reported victimization, with 11.8% of students reporting at least one experience of assault. For undergraduate cisgender men and transgender/nonbinary undergraduates, stalking was more prevalent than sexual assault.

A total of 3% of undergraduate cisgender men experienced stalking, while 2.8% experienced sexual assault. A total of 15.7% of transgender/nonbinary undergraduates reported experiencing stalking, compared to 10.6% who reported sexual assault. 

The survey results note that within experiences of sexual assault, sexual battery was more common than rape across all gender categories.

Workplace incivility and work-related sexual harassment

The survey asked faculty and staff about their experiences with work-related sexual harassment and workplace incivility. Transgender/nonbinary faculty and staff were most likely to experience work-related sexual harassment and also reported the highest mean workplace incivility score, a 8.9 on a scale of 0 to 48.

In all faculty and staff categories, the most prevalent forms of workplace incivility were “a supervisor or coworker who paid little attention to their statements or showed little interest in their opinions, who doubted their judgment on a matter for which they were responsible, and who interrupted or spoke over them.”

There was variation in the way faculty and staff experienced incivility. Cisgender women and transgender/nonbinary faculty and staff expressed more experiences with direct incivility, while cisgender men faculty and staff reported more experiences with indirect incivility.

Transgender/nonbinary faculty and staff were more than five times more likely than cisgender men faculty to experience work-related sexual harassment. A total of 3.8% of cisgender men faculty indicated experiencing harassment, compared to 21.5% of transgender/nonbinary faculty and staff.

Cisgender men staff were more likely than cisgender men faculty to experience harassment with 8.7% of staff indicating an experience. A total of 12.3% of cisgender women faculty and 9.2% of cisgender women staff reported experiencing some form of work-related sexual harassment.

Perceptions of campus climate

The survey also asked all students, faculty and staff about their perceptions of campus culture, both related to sexual misconduct and other aspects. 

Survey data shows that cisgender men undergraduates, faculty and staff indicated the most positive perceptions across all climate scales, while cisgender women students and transgender/nonbinary students gave the most negative perceptions.

The lowest average climate score appeared in perceptions of MSU's administrative leadership. The highest scores appeared in perceptions of leadership climate for relationship violence, awareness and fairness of the sexual assault policy, and general school connectedness.

When given the statement, “if I were to experience sexual misconduct, MSU would treat me with dignity and respect,” transgender/nonbinary students, faculty and staff indicated significantly lower perceptions than cisgender men and women across all groups. 

How does it compare to 2019?

Comparisons to the 2019 results are “somewhat imperfect,” due to the fact that gender identity information was collected differently in 2022. In 2019, transgender men and women were grouped together with cisgender men and women, and few results were presented separately for those who identified as genderqueer or nonbinary. 

Since 2019, the prevalence of all forms of victimization during the academic year has decreased for both male and female undergraduate students.

For undergraduate women, sexual assault experiences have decreased by 1.1 percentage points and sexual harassment experiences have decreased by 4.5 points. For undergraduate men, sexual assault decreased by 0.7 points and sexual harassment by 6.5 points.

For male and female undergraduates, the rates of disclosing a sexual harassment experience to a friend, classmate, family member, or dating partner has increased since 2019. Undergraduate women are also more likely to disclose a sexual assault to a roommate, friend or family member than they were in 2019.

Male and female faculty and staff all experienced less workplace sexual harassment in 2022 than 2019. Male faculty rates dropped 5.5 percentage points and male staff showed a decrease of 6.4 points. Female faculty rates decreased by 6.4 points and female staff by 8.4.

By analyzing transgender/nonbinary students, faculty and staff separately from their cisgender male and female counterparts, the 2022 survey showed this group as a whole is more likely to experience victimization. In an email, Woodruff noted this as an area that requires “ongoing work and diligence.”

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