Association of American Universities President Labels Findings From Sexual Misconduct Survey 'Disturbing'

The Association of American Universities (AAU) President Mary Sue Coleman said Tuesday that the prevalence of sexual misconduct and assault on 33 colleges and universities revealed in a recent survey was "disturbing news."

Coleman made the comment in response to an AAU survey that found while students were more knowledgeable about sexual misconduct, a troubling upward trend persisted in the number of students who claimed they were victims of sexual misconduct.

Coleman, a previous president at the University of Michigan and the University of Iowa, called protecting students from sexual assault and misconduct one of the "most vexing issues" she had to confront in that role. Given that comprehensive and reliable data about a problem can be key in finding a solution, she applauded the extent of the AAU survey, but said the results showed campus sexual misconduct and assault was still too widespread.

"The disturbing news from this year's survey is that sexual assault and misconduct remain far too prevalent among students at all levels of study," Coleman said.

The AAU survey found that women were most heavily impacted by sexual misconduct and assault. For example, almost 26 percent of undergraduate women experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by force or inability to consent. The second-largest group, the survey showed, were TGQN undergraduates­–defined as those respondents that are transgender, nonbinary/genderqueer, gender questioning or gender not listed–at 22.8 percent. The inability to consent includes people who are passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs.

Undergraduates also were more likely to report an incident than graduate students, although most students who said they were victimized didn't report the incident to police or any campus resource.

aau campus climate sexual assault survey
A general view of the Stanford University campus including Hoover Tower and Green Library taken on October 7 in Palo Alto, California. Stanford was one of 33 colleges and universities that participated in an Association of American Universities survey about campus sexual assault and misconduct. David Madison/Getty

"The number-one reason that victims say they don't report an incident to any resource or official is because they don't believe the incident was serious enough to merit further action," Coleman explained.

She acknowledged there was "much work to do," but noted that there was an improvement in the amount of information students know about sexual misconduct and assault.

"The good news – made possible by comparing data from the 21 schools that participated in both the 2015 and 2019 surveys – is that students are more knowledgeable than they were four years ago about what constitutes sexual assault and misconduct, how to report it, and what resources are available to victims," Coleman said.

The study interviewed students at 21 schools in 2015 and 2019. It found that most schools saw little or no change in the number of assaults or incidents of misconduct, although some saw significant increases during the past four years.