On Wednesday, President Clayton Rose released the results of the Bowdoin Experiences and Attitudes about Relationships and Sex (B.E.A.R.S) survey in a campus-wide email. The survey asked Bowdoin students over the age of 18 about their “experiences with relationships, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault” and their opinions about how the College handles these situations. 

The College did not release raw data from the survey, instead issuing a summary of the results. According to the summary, 78 percent of students agree that Bowdoin would support the person making a report, but 14 percent feel the College would not ensure a fair process for the person accused of sexual assault. Slightly over nine percent of respondents (14.5 percent of women and 3.2 percent of men) reported sexual assault “involving completed or attempted penetration of the vagina or anus or oral sex involving physical force or threats of physical force; or the inability to consent because of being passed out, asleep, or incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs.” Four percent of respondents believe that sexual assault or misconduct doesn’t occur at all at Bowdoin. 

81 percent of enrolled students completed the survey. Although it is important to note that the survey is specific to Bowdoin, response rates of similar surveys—specifically the Association of American Universities Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct—administered at other schools are consistently lower.

The survey highlighted that the majority of sexual assaults occur during student’s first two years at Bowdoin. 50 percent reported that the assault took place during their first year at Bowdoin and 87 percent reported that it happened during their first or second year. 

The survey was created last year in a collaborative effort between the Office of Institutional Research, Analytics & Consulting, and Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education Benje Douglas and others, along with student consultation from Ali Ragan ’16, Emma Patterson ’16, Marina Affo ’17, Amanda Spiller ’17 and Kendall Schutzer ’18. 

The survey drew upon previous surveys offered at other schools that have sought to gauge the campus climate of sexual violence, but was made to be specific for Bowdoin. 

“We pulled from the AAU [Association of American Universities] survey’s ideas, we pulled from the HEDS [Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium] survey’s ideas, which was a lot of smaller colleges, to come up with a very Bowdoin specific survey, but with concrete ideas that already had practice behind them,” said Spiller. 

The B.E.A.R.S survey also showed students’ hesitation to seek formal or trained help. While 97 percent of students who reported an incident told a friend, only 21 percent told someone at the Counseling Center and 16 percent told a member of Safe Space. Douglas and Associate Director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education & Director of Accommodations Lisa Peterson stressed their desire to close this gap. They are instituting new programs and education initiatives while emphasizing existing ones to train students if they are sought after by a friend.

The report also highlighted a fairly consistent disconnect between students’ belief of how to handle a sexual experience and students’ actual experiences: 96 percent of respondents agree that it is important to get consent before all sexual activity, but 14 percent of respondents believe that it is extremely or very likely that they will experience sexual assault or sexual misconduct while at Bowdoin.

“In my world almost 100 percent of the students that I see are sexually assaulted so that is my world. So no matter what numbers we saw, [it] would’ve been difficult to surprise me,” said Douglas. “That said, I think the things that I see that hearten me the most. I think our students really get consent on paper. I’d love to see that actualized a little bit more directly, but people are at least saying the right things in such a large number that that leads me to believe that people really do believe that it’s the right thing to say.”

The report of the survey identified sexual assault education and awareness among first years and sophomores in particular as a focus of programming going forward.

The Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education has paired with the Athletic Department this year to invite first year athletes to small group breakfasts to talk about issues of sexual assault and consent. Douglas hopes to expand this initiative to all first years over the course of the year.

“We want it to be a healthy four years and I think one of the ways we can do that is focusing really intently on the first and second year,” said Douglas.

Douglas also noted that the statistics regarding first years and sophomores will help his office gauge the efficacy of its initiatives.

“More first year and second year focus is going to give us a better sense of what we’ve actually changed with our programming versus what just happens with other outside characteristics,” he said. 

“I’m continuing to hold smaller workshops that are ninety minutes for students that want to start to build their skills in supporting friends who might have experienced gender violence,” said Peterson.

“I think when we’re training people it is with the thought that they are a bridge to resources, so understanding that someone who is responding to someone who has disclosed experiencing violence … it’s not their role to be acting in a therapeutic capacity but its their role to know the best way to respond initially and to know the right resources to direct students to on campus.”

As of this year, members of Safe Space will meet with students on their assigned first-year floors for at least two hours each month to help connections with underclassmen.

 While much of the new programming has already taken effect, B.E.A.R.S highlighted a need to focus efforts to promote healthy relationships. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they are or had been in a romantic or sexual relationship at Bowdoin and of that group, 32 percent said they had stayed in a relationship because it was too hard to end.

“I think where the survey will continue to be useful in helping us inform our programming,” said Peterson. “I think the survey called attention to relationship violence that is occurring on campus and that we don’t currently have a lot of programming around, and so that can help us to direct efforts and make sure we’re addressing that.”

Although the survey helped shape curriculum, Douglas does not imagine B.E.A.R.S being offered every year.

“I think we need to figure out the best practices for campuses of our size to get the best possible data. We don’t want to go from an 81 percent response rate to a 42 percent,” said Douglas. “I think part of the reason why that could happen is if we do this yearly I think people will start to miss some of the importance of it.”