Forum: CLASE survey to shed light on pervasive violence

Leila Wood and Noël Busch-Armendariz

The University of Texas at Austin community is engaged in many courageous conversations about student safety. The evidence is irrefutable: campuses are safer when administrators, faculty, law enforcement, members of the legislature and students themselves take action to understand and respond to injuries related to binge and underage drinking, and suicide. Today, the courageous conversation centers on campus sexual assault with the launch of the CLASE Climate Survey. 

Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments (CLASE): Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments is an empirically based research project to better understand sexual assault, dating violence, sexual harassment and stalking crimes funded by the University of Texas Board of Regents for the University of Texas System, including UT-Austin, over the next four years. A large random sample of students on the UT-Austin campus received requests to respond to the survey. We hope everyone who receives an email from us will take the time to respond.

The UT-Austin project efforts include:

• An anonymous student survey 

• Focused in-depth analysis with a broad set of stakeholders including students, faculty, staff, administration and community

• A four-year student cohort study to understand the experiences and the impact of sexual assault and interpersonal violence over time on students’ academic progress, health, economic well-being and quality of life.

Prevalence Rates as the Tip of the Iceberg: The University of Texas at Austin should approach solutions to campus sexual assault as a road map that begins by fully naming the problem, including a further understanding of it and then engages administrators, faculty, staff and students to address its occurrence. Long-term strategies take more time, and the culture shift needed to eliminate these types of violence from society undoubtedly starts earlier than when students begin college. Safety is defined beyond physical safety to mean that we will confront the controversial issues of alcohol, underage and binge drinking, the close relationships that offenders have with victims, and other thorny but real-life variables that intersect with sexual assault on college campuses. 

Why Should You Care?: Solutions to these issues reflect our values and permeate most anything that we do: a responsibility to self and for others; the provision of trauma-informed, victim-centered services; and a duty to implement a thoughtful, balanced system that protects student victims and the liberties of students who are accused. Students need to understand that even if they never experience this horrendous crime directly, they probably know someone personally affected by this violence. By participating in campus survey research and other forms of bystander intervention, every student can make a difference. 

Horns Leading the Herd: All students have the right to a safe learning environment, free from sexual assault and dating violence. UT-Austin should lead the state, nation and world in efforts to understand this violence, working with other leading scientists to develop innovations in prevention and intervention research that will impact the lives of victims and their families, perpetrators, and people at-risk.  This pervasive violence affects the potential productivity of our students; its eradication is a way forward to safety on the 40 Acres.

Busch-Armendariz is a professor and Associate Dean of Research and Wood is the senior research director in the School of Social Work.