FAQs- Climate Surveys

I've received several questions about my climate surveys bill. It's easy to think that a climate survey would be related to climate change, but that is not the case. Keep reading to get answers to some commonly asked questions!

1.    What’s a climate survey?

A climate survey generates anonymized, school-specific data on the nature and prevalence of sexual violence, as well as data on the attitudes and perceptions about sexual and gender-based violence among different student groups.

2.   What does the bill do?

This bill creates a task force comprised of experts in higher education, advocacy, and government, that would utilize best practices to craft a model climate survey to be utilized by all MA colleges. The bill also mandates that all higher education institutions use either the model survey or a survey that is approved by the MA Commissioner of Higher Education and turn in their findings to the task force, which would then create a report.

3.   Who supports this bill?

The bill has 20 legislative co-sponsors and is supported by Jane Doe Inc., The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, No More, End Rape on Campus, Know your IX, The Every Voice Coalition. It is not opposed by community colleges, state colleges or the University of Massachusetts system.

4.   How many schools in MA are already conducting sexual assault climate surveys?

26 public and private colleges and universities in Massachusetts have already or are currently implementing climate surveys such as, Clark University, Wellesley College, MIT, Tufts University, Harvard College, Salem State University, Williams College, and Emerson College.

 5.  Why do we need a survey if we know this is already an epidemic on college campuses?

A commonly cited statistic regarding sexual assault on college campuses is that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. This statistic comes from a survey conducted at two universities, but it was not meant to be generalized to the national level. The lack of funding for national-level research and with only 16% of colleges conducting regular surveys it is difficult to understand the scope of campus assault. The first step to solving the problem is understanding it; collecting data will help universities understand the pervasiveness and perceptions of the problem on their campus, allowing them to work on improving the campus climate and direct campus resources where needed.

6.   How much will this cost?

The bill establishes a task force representing the Commission of Higher Ed, MA colleges and universities, and non-profit partners to create a default survey which any university may use free of charge.

7.   Won't this be embarrassing for schools and damage their reputation?

That is the point of all schools doing this together as a group, so no campus is singled out.  We want to help universities avoid being hurt for doing the right thing. Research and many anecdotes have shown the students and parents of students at schools that do surveys support the surveys and find it reassuring and admirable that their campus administration is treating this serious safety issue with the urgency it deserves.

8.   What happens to the survey data?  Who controls it, and what oversight is there?

The survey data is anonymous. The task force created by the bill will craft a model climate survey that using best practices from peer- reviewed research. The survey shall be fair and unbiased, scientifically valid and reliable, and meet the highest standards of survey research. The bill currently requires institutions to publish anonymized survey results on their websites, but we would like to amend the bill to require institutions to report their findings to the Higher Education Commissioner.

9.   What version of the bill passed the senate?

Last session Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich jointly sponsored Senate Bill S.650, An Act creating a sexual assault climate survey for Massachusetts colleges and universities, which was favorably reported out by the Joint Committee on Higher Education before passing the Senate without opposition.

 10.   Have similar bills been enacted in other states?

New York- Section 6445 of the Enough is Enough law requires all NY colleges and universities to conduct anonymous climate surveys no less than every other year. Institutions are required to publish results of the surveys on their website.

Maryland- Chapter 436 of the Acts of 2015 requires higher education institutions to develop a sexual assault climate survey using nationally recognized best practices for research and requires them to administer the surveys at least every two years. Institutions must  submit school-specific results of the surveys to the Maryland Higher Education Commission along with a report aggregating the data collected by the institutions regarding sexual assault complaints made to the institution including the types of misconduct; outcome of each complaint; disciplinary actions taken by the institution; accommodations made to students in accordance with policies established in the new law, and number of reports involving alleged nonstudent perpetrators.

Louisiana- Act 172 of the 2015 regular session requires each public higher education institution to administer an annual, anonymous sexual assault climate survey to its students. Each institution is required to report school-specific results of the survey to the Board of Regents, who will publish the survey results on the board’s website.

Washington- SB 5518 passed in the state of Washington in 2015 includes a requirement for each public baccalaureate and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to conduct a campus climate assessment to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses. The results must be reported to the Governor and the higher education committees of the Legislature.

 11.   What can I do to help get these bills the vote they deserve?

Please meet with or write a personal note to your State Representative encouraging them to speak with Chairman Sánchez and Speaker DeLeo about the reasons for your support.


Preyel Patel