A report released by Public Agenda today reports on bias and harassment on campus at Michigan State University, Columbia College, and UC-Berkeley. The thing is, though, that the survey had pretty poor methodology. The group of students who took the survey was a self-selected group that clicked on a Facebook ad. The study doesn’t actually measure incidents of harassment, but rather measures which groups students perceive are more likely to receive harassment. By examining these stereotypes, the survey concluded that it was “safer” to be a woman than to be gay. About 30 percent of respondents at the three schools thought was either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” for female students to be sexually harassed while closer to 50 percent (MSU 53 percent, Columbia 47 percent, Berkeley 38 percent) of students noted verbal or graffiti harassment toward students who identify as GLBT.
Furthermore, the survey found “on a more positive note, the findings indicate few students (16 percent) believe female students would be taken less seriously in the classroom because they are female.” This is a pretty common misconception in college because college campuses have mostly achieved gender parity and, excluding hard sciences, the gender parity even tips in the favor of young women on campus. I personally didn’t get what the big deal with sexism was because women routinely performed at the top of every one of my classes. Where the guidelines are clear, like in a grading system, women tend to exceed. It is where the guidelines become less clear, like in a professional work environment that the number of women, especially in leadership positions gets stuck at around 20-30 percent.
I’m all for advocating that campuses become safe spaces for minorities of all kinds, but this survey just doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to measure or prevent such harassment. What will help, in part, is if there is an increase in the reporting rate of incidents of harassment. As long as young people are afraid to report harassment, it may continue to persist. We need to ensure young people feel comfortable coming forward with reports of discrimination and harassment.