University of Alaska Delays Survey on Sexual Assault on Campus

The University of Alaska system has delayed a campus climate survey originally scheduled for October. The goal of the survey is to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and students’ attitudes on the issue.

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After initial delays this fall, the University of Alaska didn’t want the survey to bump against the holidays and final exams. University attorney Michael O’Brien says a survey about sexual assault on campus may bring about unexpected emotions.

“During stressful times of year, we have an extra duty to be concerned about our students’ mental health and putting them in a situation that could trigger past experiences with sexual harassment or, in particular, sexual assault was a bad idea,” O’Brien says.

This is the first time University of Alaska will do a campus climate survey. Back in April, the White House provided sample questions and recommended that colleges around the country conduct surveys.

Initially, the university modeled its survey after the federal government’s. O’Brien says the questions were focused primarily on sexual violence.

“And obviously we want to know about that, but we also want to know about cyber bullying, online harassment and it doesn’t really talk about that, so because our goal is to get it right, we want to focus on, is there either a better product or something we can add to this to make it the most comprehensive for our community?” O’Brien says.

University of Alaska also heard complaints from other schools that the White House survey was unclear, too narrow and didn’t address the needs of certain student populations.

In May, the U.S. Department of Education put University of Alaska on a list of about 80 colleges nationwide being investigated for mishandling sexual assault complaints or as part of a compliance review. Federal auditors from the Office of Civil Rights visited campuses in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Bethel in October.

A monthly online newsletter for UA employees called The Statewide Voice says the survey will likely be conducted early next year. Around 18,000 students, faculty and staff will be randomly selected to participate.