AAU campus climate survey on sexual assault and sexual misconduct

Members of the Cornell community,

Earlier today, the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Cornell is a founding member, released the results of a campus sexual assault climate survey in which Cornell and 26 other universities participated.

The aggregate AAU report, as well as the Cornell-specific report (executive summary, full report and tables) from the 19% (3,906) of our students who participated in the survey, reinforce what we have known, and what we have been working to address for many years: that student sexual assault is a serious national problem, occurring with unacceptable frequency at Cornell and on campuses across the country. The results also underscore there is still more work to be done to educate and to help protect our students. Even one instance of sexual assault on our campus is one too many.

Sexual violence at Cornell is a campus and public health issue that affects every member of our community. Although parents, secondary schools, and criminal justice and other public officials must play a significant role, colleges and universities are in a unique position to address sexual violence on our campuses and to affect the attitudes and behaviors of our students. Cornell has devoted substantial attention and resources to such efforts; and we will continue and increase our extensive sexual assault prevention and awareness programs. We are committed to providing students with comprehensive and effective consent and prevention education, including bystander education and targeted efforts throughout the time a student attends Cornell; to dedicating significant resources to education and disciplinary activities; and to using fair and transparent investigation and adjudication processes.

First, we are resolved to provide the most effective education and training possible for our students. Our new vice president for student and campus life, Ryan Lombardi, has already begun a comprehensive review to ensure we are dedicating adequate resources to this effort and using the best methods to communicate and discuss these issues. He will enlist the help of our student governance institutions as well as student organizations and students and faculty in residence halls, both in the evaluation and implementation. We do a good job on this front, but we will strive to do more.

Second, while we are and will remain in full compliance with state and federal law, we must continually work to review our processes and practices, learn from what has worked and identify steps we can take to become more effective. We are changing our processes and increasing resources for intake, investigation, and adjudication. New procedures are under development and will be shared with the campus community later this fall.

Third, we will continue to seek the active engagement and counsel of the campus-wide Council for Sexual Violence Prevention. Comprised of students, faculty and staff – as well as local service providers – the Council continually evaluates the campus environment, prevention strategies, policies, procedures, and services while exploring opportunities for fostering cultural change, reducing risks, and increasing support for members of the community affected by sexual violence.

Finally, we will explore improved design strategies for future campus climate surveys. Given the importance of this issue, we must work to gain much greater participation in future surveys so that all students have their voices heard.

My paramount priority as Cornell president is the safety of our students, staff and faculty. We do not tolerate sexual violence by or against students, staff, faculty, alumni or visitors. Our community is committed to creating a safer, more caring campus culture in which bias, harassment, and violence have no place. This is a responsibility Cornell has long taken seriously and will continue to do so. The AAU survey reminds us that our work continues.

Elizabeth Garrett