Biennial survey results reveal student sexual assault, harassment experiences

The percentage of students who reported experiencing one or more forms of harassment dropped significantly to 44% this year from 50% in 2019, according to the 2021 Cornell Survey of Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct, which is conducted every two years in accordance with New York state law.

The survey revealed that since entering Cornell, 11% of students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, a slight but statistically significant drop from 13% in 2019. Consistent with national data and previous surveys, undergraduate women, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, queer or questioning students, transgender, questioning and gender nonconforming or nonbinary students (TGQN), and students with disabilities continue to experience victimization at significantly higher rates than their peers.

“Sexual abuse in any form, at any rate, is unacceptable to the Cornell community,” said Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer. “We greatly appreciate students’ courage and candor in participating in this survey. Together we can – and will – make Cornell safer and more respectful for community members.”

This year marks the fourth Sexual Assault and Related Misconduct survey, which was administered during the spring 2021 semester to a random sample of 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at the Ithaca, Geneva, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech campuses. A total of 2,303 students completed the questionnaire for a 38% response rate, matching the response rates from the two previous surveys in 2019 and 2017.

Overall, the 2021 survey findings mirror results from previous years. Cornell’s results also are consistent with national data for college-age respondents and surveys taken at peer institutions.

Campus leaders said it is hard to know whether measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic on campus shaped the decline in students reporting experiences of harassment and nonconsensual sexual contact.

Classes, clubs, and activities were largely held remotely during the 2020-21 academic year. In-person opportunities to socialize were greatly curtailed due to public health guidance.

Most students who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact reported talking to someone – usually a friend, spouse, or romantic partner – highlighting the importance of a caring community. While most survey respondents said they are aware of resources such as Cornell Health, Cornell University Police and the Title IX Coordinator, only16% reported contacting official resources. often due to thinking that what happened to them wasn’t serious enough.

“The survey revealed that many Cornell students don’t think their experience was ‘serious enough’ to contact resources,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. “We want all students to know that every experience matters. Cornell staff are here to support you and to help you.”

Cornell’s Sexual Violence Framework includes an emphasis on proactive bystander interventions and healthier social environments, which represent supportive and preventative approaches to reducing incidents of unwanted sexual contact.

Cornell offers a broad range of programs and resources both to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including education, coordinated victim support and enforcement of university policies. Many of these resources are housed centrally on the SHARE website, which provides an overview and quick links to education and victim advocacy resources, emergency services, confidential support, health care and reporting options.