IOWA CITY — The 32,000-plus University of Iowa students asked to participate in a first-of-its-kind survey aimed at assessing the issue of sexual violence on campus were given three extra weeks to complete the questionnaire after some complained it contained offensive gaffes.
Instead of a Nov. 20 deadline, students have until the end of Friday.
UI Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said the university added time “to give as many students as possible the opportunity to complete the survey.”
By Nov. 20, about 2,230 students had participated, or roughly 7 percent of those invited to do so beginning Oct. 26. That number increased to 2,560 — about 8 percent — as of Thursday.
“We’ve heard from many students that the survey’s length deterred them from responding,” Rocklin said. “We’ve also had isolated comments about specific aspects of the survey.”
The UI had opted out of one of the most extensive surveys ever done on the issue of sexual violence on campuses, which canvassed about 150,000 students at 27 colleges, including Iowa State University. The survey, conducted by the Association of American Universities, found nationally that more than 20 percent of female undergraduates said they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct this year.
That survey had about a 19 percent overall response rate, although it was much lower on some campuses.
UI officials, expressing concerns about the timeline of the national survey and its completeness, decided to do one of their own that would focus more specially on the UI community.
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The survey instrument the UI used is called the Administrator Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative Survey, developed by campus advocates, students, law enforcement and sexual assault researchers who met in Georgia and in Wisconsin for summits on sexual assault and misconduct.
Some students quickly raised concerns.
The survey provides different questions to different students based on their answers to previous questions.
“Students alerted us to two errors in the branching logic, which presented some with a question, or several questions, they should not have received,” Rocklin said. “Each issue was fixed quickly.”
Graduate student Spenser Santos said the errors were offensive and left some feeling re-victimized.
“There were questions of whether you committed acts under the umbrella of sexual assault,” Santos said. “Some people answered, ‘no, no, no,’ and then were given a follow-up question that should have been given only if someone answered in the affirmative.”
Santos said several friends reported experiencing the problem and didn’t finish the survey because of it.
“This was upsetting and triggering to many who experienced the follow-up question identifying them as perpetrators,” Santos said in a letter to UI President Bruce Harreld. “And it is doubly upsetting that no announcement and apology for the error has been made public.”
Santos said the survey was corrected by the time he logged on, but peers who were asked the wrong questions sent messages to administrators, calling the gaffe “unacceptable.”
“My colleagues who are survivors reported seeing it,” he wrote to Harreld. “They expressed shock that anyone could look at this survey and not see how it would trigger survivors in many ways.”
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The survey the UI used was provided at no cost and allowed administrators to make changes reflecting the campus. According to a generic copy given to The Gazette, it begins with demographic questions, then moves into modules starting with alcohol use.
Santos said he and some others found the ordering of questions objectionable.
“It sends the message that the university sees the survivor’s behavior patterns with regard to drugs and alcohol as relevant, despite later assurances that sexual assault is not the fault of the victim,” he wrote in his letter.
Santos said the survey seemed focused on relations between students and less so on reports of faculty-student misconduct or cases involving student interactions with non-students.
The UI graduate student union also weighed in, calling problems “numerous.”
“Its overall tone is blaming and dismissive of victims of sexual violence and the extensive line of questioning about the victim’s alcohol and drug history is deeply disturbing,” a union spokeswoman said in a statement.
Rocklin said the university contacted survey developers about the errors and officials will be able to determine which surveys contained questions they should not have so that can be addressed during the analysis.
Results are expected during the spring. semester.