Upon learning of the recent survey results, I decided to analyze the findings using my training as a sociologist in an attempt to see whether they correlate with structural variables—some institutional arrangements that might lead to more “rape prone” and “rape free” campuses. Such an analysis, I figured, might help make sense of the apparently widespread perception among university presidents that sexual assault isn’t a problem on their own turf.
Efforts to parse this along a single line—public versus private, Greek versus non-Greek, sports culture versus non-sports culture, and so on—would, I suspected, yield little. A multivariate analysis—juggling several structural variables at the same time—might help unravel why some schools are more rape prone than others. It would help elucidate what’s happening inside those schools.
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The first variable I evaluated was the range of degrees offered by a given institution. There are a few differences between institutions offering bachelor’s degrees only and those also offering more advanced, graduate-level programs. But the biggest differences are between those granting four-year and associate’s degrees. Community colleges are almost universally non-residential, and most students work off campus. Community-college students tend to be older learners—the average age is 29—and are often returning to school after getting married and having a family, serving in the military, being displaced at work, and so on. Roughly three-fifths of community-college students are enrolled in classes part time.
These characteristics are largely why evening campus activities at community colleges are far less plentiful; people commute to school as they would—or do—for work. Of course, that’s not to say that sexual assault is nonexistent at such institutions, but many of the major structural features of the “rape-prone campus”— a social life that revolves around the campus residential experience, party culture, weekend sports activities—are missing.
A little under a third of the roughly 650 presidents surveyed by Inside Higher Ed are at community colleges, and almost all of those respondents (170 or so) disagreed that sexual assault is prevalent at their campuses. Chances are most of those community-college presidents are being realistic in their responses. Same goes for the estimated 10 respondents who represent all-female colleges, where sexual assault is almost certainly less prevalent (albeit by no means nonexistent).
So what about the others? In theory, that still leaves another 450-plus presidents who are potentially “delusional” in thinking that sexual assault isn’t a problem on their own campuses.
The second variable I considered involves the rapists themselves. While the Justice Department estimates that one in five female college students experience some form of sexual assault, the other half of the equation is far more circumspect: Only 6 percent or so of male college students commit sexual assault, with each committing nearly six rapes on average, according to the psychologist David Lisak, who’s conducted extensive and widely cited research on sexual assault. That suggests that many sexual assaults on campus are committed by serial predators.