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'Climate Survey' shows general feeling of safety, but acknowledges issues

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More than 90 percent of West Virginia University students say they feel physically safe on campus, although almost 20 percent say they have experienced some type of unwanted contact, according to the preliminary results of an initial "climate survey" of students released Friday.

"While we are pleased that members of our community generally feel safe and comfortable on campus, we are committed to lowering the number of incidents the survey reported," said Provost Joyce McConnell, whose office commissioned the survey along with the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. "Indeed, we have done much already to address those issues through campus-wide programs such as the WVU Peer Advocates and It's on Us.

The survey was conducted by WVU's Research Center on Violence within the Eberly college and was a response to White House encouragement that such surveys be conducted on a variety of topics, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, hate crimes, stalking, intimate partner violence, students’ perception of safety and their participation in prevention training. It was led by Walter S. DeKeseredy, Amanda Hall-Sanchez and James Nolan.

"One of main objectives of the study is to provide policy-relevant data on the extent and distribution of various types of victimization that female students have experienced, and further to focus on students’ perceptions on the campus’ social and cultural climate, their knowledge of and involvement in support services, and their perceptions of how WVU would handle a situation in which a student reported an incident of sexual misconduct," DeKeseredy said.

He said further, detailed analysis of the responses is still being conducted.

Overall, the survey concluded, Morgantown is a "strong campus."

The survey was sent electronically last spring to 30,470 students on WVU's Morgantown campus. There were 5,718 responses, or nearly 20 percent of the population. Of the respondents, 57 percent were female and 37 percent male.

Overall, 93.3 percent of the respondents said they were not worried about being physically attacked by someone they knew, and 91 percent were not worried about being sexually assaulted by someone they knew.

Additionally, 72 percent were not worried about being attacked or sexually assaulted by a stranger.

Attitudes around acceptance were less positive: almost 29 percent of respondents perceived an atmosphere of "unfriendliness" toward Muslims, 27 percent toward transgender students, 19 percent toward gay men/lesbians and 24 percent toward feminists.

Thirty percent of respondents reported they had experienced a verbal hate- or bias-motivated assault; 25 percent reported they had been verbally sexually harassed.

"The University takes these concerns extremely seriously. But it is also important to note that this survey reflects perceptions from almost year ago," McConnell said. "I believe we have made great strides in addressing those perceptions. We opened an LGBTQ+ Center last fall and have implemented several sexual assault awareness campaigns and initiatives.

“We’ve also seen powerful expressions of campus-wide unity in recent months,” McConnell added. “I am hopeful that if we surveyed our campus today, we would find a markedly different perception of our climate.”

The University remains steadfast in its commitment to having a safe and welcoming environment, President Gordon Gee said.

"We all suffer when misperceptions and inexcusable actions prevent people from sharing their gifts with the world," he said. "Having a diverse faculty and student body makes our University stronger. Indeed, the celebration and acceptance of the very best minds produces the very best outcomes.

"We have worked very hard to change our campus culture—and going backwards is not an option. Inclusion and respect are core values that anchor all of us at West Virginia University," he said.

The survey also found that 87 percent of students have helped each other, often through intervention when they witness inappropriate actions or behavior, 97 percent believe Morgantown is a friendly campus and 70 percent said people can be trusted. 

Other findings from the survey:

• 18 percent said "yes" when asked if "someone fondled, kissed, or rubbed up against the private areas of my body (lips, breast/chest, crotch or butt) or removed some of my clothes without my consent (but did not attempt sexual penetration)."

• 10 percent said, "even though it didn’t happen, someone TRIED to have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with me without my consent."

• 69 percent said the administration would take seriously any report of sexual misconduct, and 71 percent said WVU would take steps to protect the safety of anyone reporting misconduct.

• 62 percent said the University would address factors that may have led to sexual misconduct.

-WVU-

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CONTACT: John A. Bolt; University Relations/Communications
304.293.5520; John.Bolt@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.