By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief
At the end of the Spring 2019 semester, Yeshiva University sent a “YU Campus Climate Survey” to YU undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to “ascertain general awareness and knowledge of the University’s prevention and response to sexual assault.” Neima Pollak, SCW ’20, a student who has been advocating for improved sexual assault prevention on campus, appreciates the survey. She said, “I am glad that YU sends out the campus climate survey because the results allow us an insight into sexual assault on campus. We can then use these results as further direction in combating sexual assault….”
The survey, a requirement by New York State Education Law Article 129-B, Section 6445, is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to address sexual assault in educational environments. The campus assessment provision of the law went into effect for the 2016-2017 academic year, introducing YU’s Spring 2017 Campus Climate Survey. While it is a requirement for YU to distribute the survey, it is not mandatory that students complete it. Rivkie Reiter, who graduated from Stern College for Women in May 2019, told the Observer, “I’ve never been particularly impressed or surprised by the survey. The school doesn’t have a choice but to send it out, and the way people respond to it with shock and appreciation, lauding the school for being so forward-thinking has frustrated me since I first heard about it.”
Article 129-B requires that “[i]nstitutions shall publish results of the surveys on their website[…].” Spring 2018’s climate survey is absent from YU’s website, but Spring 2017’s has been published, along with the results of last semester’s survey. The surveys are designed by the Yeshiva University Campus Climate Survey Commission and are “anonymous and confidential,” pursuant to the NYS law. According to this year’s survey results, “[o]f the total of 4,372 YU students, 744 students responded to the survey, resulting in a response rate of 17%.”
51.6% of the respondents are undergraduate students, with 59% being female, 39% male, and the remaining 2% non-binary/third gender, those who prefer to self-describe, and those who prefer not to say. 88.6% of the respondents identify as heterosexual, 2.6% as gay or lesbian, 3.8% as bisexual, 1.3% who prefer to self-describe, and 3.8% who prefer not to say.
Of the respondents, 6.3% say that someone has “made sexual advances, gestures, comments, or jokes that were unwelcome” to them in the 2018-2019 academic year; 3.2% of respondents report that an individual had “unwanted sexual contact” with them during this time. 22% of the incidents occurred on a YU campus and 65% occurred off-campus, but in New York City. 42% of the perpetrators were current students of YU.
41% of the victims notified a YU figure, including YU’s Title IX Coordinator (currently Dean Chaim Nissel, the Dean of Students), the YU Counseling Center, and YU Campus Security; 8% notified local police and 63% did not notify anyone. 32% of victims did not contact YU’s Title IX Coordinator because they “were concerned that the group would treat [them] poorly, not respond effectively, or not take action….” 26% of students did not reach out to YU’s Office of Student Life or other YU administrative figures, faculty, and staff for the same reasons.
With a recent push on campus for the initiation of a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Club and the lawsuit by 38 former Yeshiva University High School for Boys’ students against YU for how it “failed to protect students” from sexual abuse by rabbis in the institution, there is a spotlight on YU for how it deals with sexual abuse and its prevention. The majority of survey respondents say that they “don’t know” how YU deals with instances of sexual assault — 52% of respondents say they “don’t know” if “YU is doing a good job of providing needed services to victims of sexual assault,” 59% say they “don’t know” if “YU is doing a good job of investigating incidents of sexual assault,” and 72% say that they “don’t know” if “[a]t YU, when it is determined that a sexual assault has happened, the perpetrator gets punished.”
While YU distributes its “Title IX: Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy” to incoming students during undergraduate orientations and has a segment dedicated to addressing sexual assault by showing students the “Tea and Consent” video, no workshop or online training on sexual assault prevention is mandatory for undergraduate students. 25% of respondents say that they’ve been to a YU class, training (online or otherwise), assembly, or workshop dealing with the “definition of consent and how to obtain it from a sexual partner.” The numbers drop for other topics — 23% of respondents say they’ve been educated on YU’s sexual assault policy; 21% on how to report sexual assault; 15% on the services available for survivors of sexual assault; 14% on how to intervene as a bystander to protect other students of sexual assault. Some students believe training should be conducted on campus. Sara Schatz, SCW ’20, told the Observer, “There…isn’t nearly enough sexual assault prevention training on campus (if at all), which…does make campus life feel unsafe… And even if something still happens despite the training (G-d forbid), at least YU won’t lose more money from a lawsuit because they chose not to take precautionary measures.”
The survey answers reflect a lack of awareness of administrative resources available on campus “specifically relating to sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking.” 61% of students aren’t at all aware of the resources offered by YU’s Title IX Coordinator; 41% responded similarly to their awareness of the Dean of Student’s resources and 46% to YU Housing’s resources. The majority of students are aware of the YU Counseling Center’s resources regarding sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking, with 66% of respondents saying that they are “very aware” or “aware.” Dean Nissel claims that safety of students is YU’s top priority. He says, “It is important to us that if students experience any type of harassment, they report it to security, our Title IX coordinator[…] or Human Resources so we can properly investigate and take action if needed. We use the survey data to monitor the students’ experience on campus and ensure that they are getting the support needed.”