Surveying a culture

As the College’s sexual assault survey closes tonight, we at the Record would like to draw attention to the numerous positive aspects of this survey. The fact that this survey was Williams specific is a great advantage for future changes that will come from the survey results. Having the ability to examine Williams and zoom in on issues that are of particular interest and concern to students here will aid the College in its work to prevent sexual assault and to help survivors.

We are impressed with the high participation by the student body in this survey and believe that the strong publicity efforts by both the administration and students has contributed to this response rate. The reminder emails from the College as well as the Facebook posts by various students no doubt increased participation by the student body. Student participation also took place behind the scenes, as the Rape and Sexual Assault Network and Men for Consent helped make the survey, ensuring that it was relevant to the student body and the issues students face related to sexual assault.

We believe that the questions related to attitudes about sexual assault are particularly valuable. While it is certainly beneficial to get numbers on what proportion of the student body has experienced sexual assault, learning more about the culture surrounding discussion on these issues is also crucial. The survey will hopefully illuminate community attitudes here at the College, and if these turn out to be problematic, then it is our hope that future programming and policies can change these attitudes. This is the section of the survey that could lead to the most potential change, especially in regards to student attitudes and knowledge of the different resources available on campus.

The medium of a survey, however, has several inherent drawbacks. Because surveys offer complete anonymity, they are obviously a valuable source for this type of sensitive information. Because of the limitations of surveys, we hope that this survey will be complemented by other sources of information. One limitation is that many of the questions were vague and difficult to answer within the confines of the yes/no or point scale system. More clearly worded questions could help avoid this problem. Further, surveys yield respondent biases, and we hope that the focus groups that will be held in the future will be put together in such a way as to draw from voices that may have gone unheard in the survey.