Campus Climate Surveys Required by Recent Reauthorization of VAWA


Woman holding sign that reads "VAWA ACT Reauthorized"

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding will soon be required to administer campus climate surveys every two years on issues related to dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking.  This new requirement is included in budget legislation signed last month.  On March 15, 2022, President Biden signed the country’s budget into law, in the form of H.R. 2471, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022.” This omnibus appropriations law includes the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 (“the Act”), which extends all current VAWA grant programs through 2027.  The Act also includes a section titled, “Online Survey Tool For Campus Safety,” which directs the Secretary of Education, in consultation with other offices, to “develop, design, and make available through a secure and accessible online portal, a standardized online survey tool regarding postsecondary student experiences with domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking.”  According to the Act, the Secretary of Education shall use best practices and consult with the higher education community, experts, victims from culturally specific populations, and victims with disabilities to develop and design an accessible climate survey tool, and the methodology for its administration. 

The survey questions will be designed to gather information on student experiences with dating and domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking, and will be trauma-informed.  Of particular to interest to colleges and universities, the survey tool will include questions about reporting, including whether the survey-taker reported relevant incidents, whether they were informed of resources, whether the incident was investigated upon being reported, and questions about the context of the incident (i.e., whether force, incapacitation, or coercion was involved).  The survey will also ask questions about reporting to law enforcement and/or the postsecondary institution, questions about whether the accused individual was a student, and questions aimed at determining the impact of the behavior, including diminished grades, dropped classes, costs, medical services, etc.  The Act also states that the survey tool will ask questions designed to “determine the impact and effectiveness of prevention and awareness programs and complaints processes.”   Institutions may also seek approval from the Secretary of Education to ask additional questions intended to increase understanding of climate factors that are institution-specific.

The survey tool will be administered by the Department of Education, and institutions will not be required to pay for any institution-specific modifications to the survey tool that are approved by the Secretary.  Beginning no later than one year after the survey tool is made available, institutions that receive federal funding will be required to administer the campus climate survey on a biennial basis.  In fulfilling this new mandate, Institutions are required to ensure “to the maximum extent practicable, that an adequate, random, and representative sample size of students (as determined by the Secretary) enrolled at the institution complete the survey tool” developed in accordance with the Act.  The Act itself does not provide any further guidance on how to accomplish this. 

The Act also directs the Secretary of Education prepare a biennial report of the aggregate survey data, from all colleges and universities that accept federal funding, and publish the report on the Department of Education’s website.  The report must include campus-level data for all institutions in a manner that allows for comparison between schools, but will not include any individual responses to the survey.  Institutions will then be required to publish their own campus-level results of the standard survey questions, as well as any institution-specific questions included in the survey.

Institutions likely have questions about how this survey tool will work and whether it will accurately capture the climate of their campuses.  In its current form, it does not appear that the Act takes current Clery reporting obligations into account, or similar state-specific reporting requirements, which could result in conflicting numbers that institutions may be left to explain to their community.  Additionally, it is unclear how institutions can ensure that an “adequate, random, and representative sample size of students” completes the survey, although additional guidance on that may be forthcoming.  The Higher Education team at Bricker & Eckler will continue to monitor this issue and provide updates when new information becomes available.

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