Title IX Poll Results article

From January 29 to February 2, the Tech conducted an anonymous poll regarding undergraduate students’ experiences with Caltech’s Title IX Office. The poll was conducted via a Microsoft Office Form, requiring respondents to sign in with Caltech credentials to confirm their identity, but did not save their identity with the responses. The Tech received verbal approval from the Institutional Review Board to publish the results of the poll in aggregate form. The poll yielded 125 responses from Caltech undergrads. Responses highlighted issues regarding student perception of the Title IX Office.

Poll Results

Information regarding the house affiliation, gender, year of study, and major of poll participants was collected to identify demographic-based patterns. A majority of poll participants identified as women (51%), while non-binary individuals and men constituted 9% and 36% of participants, respectively. Significant differences in answers based on demographic data were not observed.

In addition to demographic information questions, students were asked the following questions on a scale of 1-5 (1 = Least, 5 = Most) regarding their perception of Caltech’s Title IX office:

  • How familiar are you with the Title IX office at our institution?
  • Based on your understanding or experience, how effectively do you believe the Title IX office addresses issues of unlawful discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and other individual characteristics protected by federal and state law?
  • How likely would you be to file an official report to the Title IX office if you encountered or witnessed an incident that falls under its purview?

Participants were also asked if they had personally interacted with the Title IX office, which 39 out of 125 reported that they had. 27 of these individuals identified as female, non-binary, or did not wish to disclose their gender. 12 of these individuals were men. These participants were asked two additional questions, regarding their experience with the office:

  • How satisfied were you with your overall experience with the Title IX office?
  • In your opinion, does the Title IX office process cases within a reasonable timeframe?

The responses obtained from some of these two sets of questions are visualized by the included graphs:

Title IX Poll Results

Title IX Poll Results

Free-Response Comments

All respondents were invited to leave additional free-response comments regarding their perceptions of the Title IX Office. It is worth noting that the comments listed here are a sample of the responses. All comments conveyed a negative or neutral opinion of the Title IX Office; there were no overtly positive responses received.

Some comments accused the office of caring more about legally protecting the institute than helping students:

  • “The office protects the school rather than the people it’s [designed] to serve. We’ve seen them let sexual assaulters get off with little punishment.”
  • “The office seems like a very barebones attempt to meet the legal requirement of Title IX, largely in the hope of avoiding being sued.”

Multiple students were under the impression that the office lacks resources:

  • “The current office is just so overworked that they’re too busy to handle the cases they have with care.”
  • “Cases take far too long.”

Issues with the Title IX Office caused some students to lose faith in the office, and consider not reporting cases:

  • “It sucks how we already don’t feel safe on this campus and even if an incident happens, we still aren’t supported enough for us to think it’s worth it to report it.”
  • “I was told by a Title IX advocate that reporting my case to Title IX office would be too much of a pain; that the details of my case would be dragged out for months, my stalker would be given free reign to spin his own stories and verbally attack me in person, and no change would happen. So I stayed silent.”

Students who reported that they have interacted with the Title IX Office were also asked to provide any additional comments about their experience with the office.

Multiple students reported that they regretted coming to the Title IX Office:

  • “Dealing with the Title IX office for months only to end up with nothing more than a mutual no-contact order was probably more traumatic than the act of getting sexually assaulted itself.”
  • “They claim for the process to be quick and to help you but honestly the system is made to protect the [accused] more… If I could go back and stop myself from ever going in [and] filing a complaint, I would.”

Some comments accused the office of not prioritizing the care of alleged victims of incidences:

  • “The people there are kind and seem well-intentioned, however their loyalty to following rules and upholding Caltech’s reputation prevent them from handling cases in a way that actually is meaningful.”
  • “You guys [the Title IX Office] try to protect and coddle abusers while gaslighting the victims.”

However, other students think that the failings of the office are due to legal limitations or a lack of resources:

  • “I blame federal policy for this. Obama era policy ensured Title IX issues to be one of the schools, and in the hands of federal channels would not only be taken more seriously but would face less of the policy issues.”
  • “I think the people that are in the office are doing their best to provide a good support network. However, they seem to be incredibly short-staffed and limited by law on the scope of things they can do and the timeline they can do things in.”

2019 AAU Survey

In 2019, Caltech (amongst other schools) participated in the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU). 877 Caltech students (501 undergraduate and 376 graduate students) participated, incentivized by a thousand-dollar award for the house with the highest completion rate. Though the survey did not directly ask questions about their impression about Caltech’s Title IX Office specifically, some questions revealed student sentiment regarding the institution’s handling of Title IX-related incidents.

Two questions involving Title IX affairs included:

  • “If someone were to report a sexual assault or other sexual misconduct to an official at Caltech, how likely is it that campus officials would take the report seriously?”
  • “How likely is it that campus officials would conduct a fair investigation”

In response to these questions, Participants could answer “not at all”, “a little”, “somewhat”, ”very”, or “extremely“.

In response to the first question, an overwhelming 73.6 percent of participants answered either “very” or “extremely,” placing Caltech above average. Similarly, Caltech was marked above average on the second question by four points; however, fewer students believed it likely for campus officials to conduct a fair investigation at 55 percent of respondents answering “very” or “extremely.”

In comparison to a 2015 AAU survey that Caltech also participated in, the 2019 AAU results represented small decreases across both of these questions. It should be noted that across schools surveyed, there was a positive trend noted from 2015 to 2019 in responses to the first question, and negative responses noted in responses to the second question.

While a new AAU survey would enable a more comprehensive picture of student perception of Title IX affairs, the_ Tech_’s poll has highlighted serious concerns amongst those surveyed.

Additional Information

The Tech had originally planned to keep the poll open for an additional week past February 2nd. However, three days after the poll was released, Vice President of Student Affairs Kevin Gilmartin contacted the Editor-in-Chief instructing the _Tech _to immediately stop data collection, since it “meets the criteria for human subject research” and was therefore subject to approval by Caltech’s Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects – Institutional Review Board (IRB). The Tech complied. In a subsequent meeting, the IRB confirmed that journalistic activities such as this poll are excluded from the definition of human subject research as provided in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 2018 Requirements of the regulations for the protection of human subjects (45 CFR Part 46), and consequently do not have to satisfy the requirements of those regulations or receive approval from the IRB.

Special thanks to Jonathan Booker for independently facilitating this survey, coordinating with the IRB, and ensuring the privacy of those who responded to the poll.