Letter to the Editor: Students should be concerned about campus climate

To the Editor:

I write in response to your editorial of Sept. 16 regarding the Campus Climate Task Force (CCTF) Report. I am glad to see that you’ve taken these matters seriously enough to examine them critically in The Bucknellian. You raise a number of important questions, only some of which I can answer. You also make some claims that are unfounded. Critical thinking requires an adequate knowledge of the material being criticized, and so I hope that the following will fill some of those gaps.

Some of the statistics on sexual assault at the University cited in the Report are based on research that I have conducted with teams of student co-investigators for over 10 years. This research has been done in an attempt to understand better the nature of sexual assault among college students (it was not done for the University, although it was financially supported by the University). Our selection procedures have resulted in fairly large samples of students based on response rates that are considered quite good for survey research on this topic (30 to 40 percent). These procedures have also produced samples that are reasonably representative of the groups that we were interested in, depending on which aspects of sexual assault we were examining in a given study. Thus, for example, we have not collected data from first-year students in some studies because we were interested primarily in examining differences between members of Greek organizations and Independent students. Similarly, when focusing on sexual assault victimization, we have not sought data from male students, not because men are never victimized, but rather because women are victimized at substantially higher rates (and the rates of male victimization here are too small to analyze meaningfully).

You expressed concerns about survey response bias when you recommended encouraging truthful responses and wondered about respondents’ motivations to complete surveys. These are legitimate concerns for which there are only imperfect solutions. The best we can do regarding truthful responding is to measure tendencies to respond in a socially desirable manner, and then test for an association between that tendency and reports of victimization or lack thereof (we have not yet found such an association in any of our studies). Motivation to participate in surveys of personal, and potentially painful, matters such as sexual assault probably works both ways. It is possible, as you suggest, that some respondents might be more motivated to complete such surveys for a variety of reasons, but it is also possible that assault victims would be less likely to do so because they do not wish to be reminded of painful experiences.

You also seem to believe that “Greek life” is sufficiently safe for men and women at the University. Your points supporting this claim, while sensible, are not supported by the data. I agree that Greek life is safe for men, but not for women. Our data demonstrate that members of sororities are at significantly greater risk for being sexually assaulted than unaffiliated women (this is true in other studies conducted on other campuses as well).

The rates of sexual assault at the University as reflected by our research are high, in comparison to nationally representative data, and the CCTF and President Bravman are correct in arguing that something needs to be done about this problem. The choices about what we should do will be complex and difficult, and I hope that all members of the campus community will be engaged in helping with this task. In this effort, I would hope that students, Greek or otherwise, would be at least as concerned about their fellow students who have been affected by sexual assault as they are about their Greek organizations.


Bill Flack
Associate Professor of Psychology


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