Mass. Bill Reveals Need for Campus Sexual Health Survey

Attempts to address the issue of sexual assault on campus are often hampered by a lack of information, including unreported assaults. Senate Resolve S. 2471, a bill that passed the Massachusetts State Senate in July, attempts to rectify this issue. The bill, which has yet to pass the Massachusetts House of Representatives, would require Massachusetts colleges to anonymously survey their students at the end of every academic year in order to better understand how often sexual assaults occur and how students perceive the problem. This bill would make Massachusetts the first state to mandate a sexual assault climate survey. Currently, the bill is stalled, as the House is not in session. Advocates are attempting to convince the House to hold an informal session to vote on the bill, but it is not clear when this will occur.

Regardless of whether this bill passes, Boston College should consider the issues the bill presents. A sexual assault climate survey is a necessity if we are to better understand the issue and the current situation on our campus. BC already has similar programs that institute similar types of surveys, including the Women’s Center’s bystander survey and the Stand Up BC survey, which are taken by freshmen. A sexual assault climate survey would extend to the entire student body and help illustrate what problems exist on campus and how the administration can address them. Without this information, it is difficult to put forward solutions and ideas to address sexual assault, as the issue remains clouded.

Theology professor John McDargh, who has been at the University for 37 years and has advocated for LGBTQ students, said this past spring that students don’t participate in surveys relating to sexual health due to decisions made by the top of the administration. According to McDargh, these decisions are made so that the administration can maintain “plausible deniability,” about sexual activity on campus. This needs to change so that those who want to address the problem of sexual assault on campus have the information they need, including information about sexual activity.

While the information can be unpleasant, it is essential that it is collected and studied. In 2012, BC released a survey of a somewhat similar nature that also returned disheartening results. A study done by the Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment revealed that women at BC reported lower self-confidence after four years than men, despite having, on average, higher GPAs. This was a necessary study that prompted programming and spurred an increased focus on the issue of female self-esteem at BC. With the information gathered, BC was able to work to address the problem. The same principle applies to the sexual assault survey, which would greatly benefit the student body and the school as a whole.

Other Boston-area colleges, such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northeastern, have released similar climate surveys in the past, and BC would be better able to address the problem of sexual assault if it did the same. Even if Senate Resolve S. 2471 fails to pass in the House and does not become law, BC should seriously consider implementing the necessary measures to understand and address sexual assault on campus.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Archives

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