Campus Life survey results provoke feelings of triumph and discontentment, with questions about The Covenant’s role in students’ perceptions of their ability to report assaults to faculty and staff.
By Hannah Johnson
Lone shadows walk at dusk down the dimly lit pathway from Bethel University’s Brushaber Commons to upperclassmen housing at North Village. Pencils are lodged in the locks of sophomore townhouse doors to keep them open at all times, to avoid having to carry a key.
A Campus Life survey taken last May both affirms students, faculty and staff of Bethel’s safety level and raises concern about students’ willingness to come forward on hard topics.
“Students are definitely under the illusion that Bethel is the ‘safe place,’” Student Body President Zoe Vermeer said.
The survey asked students specifically about their experiences with sexual assault. Fifteen of 1033 students who responded indicated that since the beginning of fall semester 2014, someone affiliated with Bethel sexually assaulted them or someone attempted to sexually assault them. Of the fifteen students, 11 were women and four were men.
Nationally, 23 percent of female and 5 percent of male students reported experiences with sexual assault and sexual misconduct in a survey given by the Association of American Universities. The survey covered 27 universities with responses from more than 150,000 students.
Bethel’s survey results “thrilled” campus Associate Dean of Institutional Assessment & and Accreditation and professor of psychology, Joel Frederickson,. Frederickson called the numbers “extraordinarily low” compared to national college campus surveys.
While the numbers are interesting and informative, they’re also useful. Bethel administrators use them to gauge the effectiveness of their policies and determine where changes are needed. One area that may be cause for administrators’ concern is the area of reporting.
The report states that of the 15 students who reported sexual assault, “only one indicated that they used formal procedures to report the assault.” In another section of the survey, five students reported to have kept their incidence incidents under the radar because they “didn’t want the person who did it to get in trouble.” There were five students checked the box saying it is a private matter and they wanted to deal with it on their own.
The top priority for Bethel administrators, along with safety, is openness. Associate Dean of Students Jim Benjamin hopes that threat of punishment will not deter students from seeking help.
“You are not held accountable for that as a policy violation at all,” Associate Dean of Students Jim Benjamin said. “Our absolute primary want and hope is that someone would come forward to be assisted and helped with what happened,”
President Jay Barnes also addresses the issue at the beginning of the sexual misconduct training video, an initiative taken by Bethel University Human Resources beginning in 2014 to be sure Bethel is aware of what to do in difficult situations.
“We put the Bethel Covenant issues off to the side … our key goal, our key purpose, is to get the truth and deal with it in a way that brings healing and restoration,” Barnes said.
Students are encouraged to report any incidents of sexual assault that they personally experienced, or their friends experienced, knowing that there is a safe place to seek help. Confidential resources are also available on campus in the form of counseling services or a pastor.
To address the concern, measures are currently being taken at Bethel to create an environment for conversations on sex, alcohol, and civility. The Office of Student Life hosted a table at the fall 2015 campus health fair asking for students’ opinion on what they wanted to talk about—sex and alcohol were two commonly mentioned topics.
“It needs to be something that is woven into how we do life and how we have conversation at Bethel because this isn’t just a one event,” Cara Wald, Title IX Coordinator and Director of Human Resources, said. “This has to be an ongoing conversation and dialogue in order to really make inroads on [sexual assault].”