- A group of House Democrats wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Monday, calling for him to standardize climate surveys, which can gauge college students' attitudes toward safety problems and sexual violence on campuses and identify whether they have experienced them.
- The 79 lawmakers wrote that the U.S. Department of Education has authority to issue guidance that would require colleges to conduct these reviews every other year and mandate participation by at least 40% of students on each campus.
- A survey tool should also include information about trauma-informed resources for sexual assault survivors, be inclusive of LGBTQ students, and address the practice of a partner removing a condom without consent, known as "stealthing," lawmakers wrote.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, one of the lawmakers who organized the letter to Cardona, has expressed interest in robust campus climate surveys before, requesting in 2018 that the Government Accountability Office research them and offer recommendations to Congress on how to administer a nationwide version. The surveys are one of the most common instruments to gauge students' perceptions and knowledge of campus sexual violence.
A subsequent report from the GAO released last year revealed colleges had roughly equivalent methods of measuring the problem of campus sexual misconduct. Six of seven colleges the GAO researched sent their surveys to their entire undergraduate populations, and one provided its survey to a representative student sample. Almost all the colleges incentivized their students to complete the reviews, such as by offering gift cards, and most advertised them on social media.
However, student participation in the surveys ranged from 10% to more than 60%, which could present a barrier for administrators attempting to get a pulse on students' feelings about campus sexual violence.
The lawmakers' letter also draws attention to the guidance from the federal government on climate surveys being stale. The latest guidance on the topic from the U.S. Department of Justice was released in October 2016.
That provided a roadmap for institutions that issue surveys. It included advice on ensuring confidentiality for students filling them out and incorporating the resulting data into long-term planning to combat sexual misconduct.
New guidelines should standardize campus climate reviews and direct colleges to publicly report information on crimes captured in those surveys, the lawmakers wrote Monday. The Education Department should allocate funding to help college administrators incentivize students to take the surveys, which should incorporate definitions of each type of sexual misconduct, they wrote.
The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The agency is currently drafting a regulation that will govern Title IX, the law banning sex-based discrimination in educational settings, and how colleges should investigate and potentially punish sexual violence. A proposed rule is due to be released in May 2022.