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A man and a woman are shown sitting next to each other, with the man's hand on the woman's leg and the woman pushing his hand away.

Data can be used to address the epidemic of collegiate sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

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Higher education is in the midst of a wave of mandates to conduct campus sexual misconduct climate surveys.

Thanks to the state-level efforts of activists and legislative champions tirelessly promoting these initiatives, Louisiana, New York, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois, Nevada, Connecticut and Maine have passed laws requiring sexual misconduct surveys for all public—and usually also private—higher ed institutions. The latter six states passed their legislation due to the advocacy of The Every Voice Coalition, and the coalition is at work in another eight states and Washington, DC, advancing similar legislation. Additionally, a federal requirement is looming for all institutions via a provision in the 2021 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization.

The takeaway is clear: if your institution isn’t already in a regular cycle of conducting these surveys, it’s time to get on board.

As part of a team—the Administrator-Researcher Campus Climate Collaborative, better known as the ARC3—working on sexual misconduct climate surveys for years, as well as with prior institutional experience in Title IX and research, we see challenges ahead. These mandates require an incredible amount of effort from administrators who are already stretched thin. But there are readily available solutions.

Survey Development and Evolution

In January 2015, a group of scientists, college administrators, Title IX experts and several others who work in sexual violence prevention and response came together to create the ARC3 survey, a comprehensive—and free—sexual misconduct climate survey.

But we did not create just a check-the-box survey. We wanted to gather data that Title IX and university administrators would be able to use to truly address the epidemic of collegiate sexual assault and sexual misconduct writ large. We were providing institutions with a tool, consisting of 19 modules, to gather all the qualitative information they would need to assess the scope of sexual harassment and violence in their communities and create change.

Over the following eight years, the ARC3 survey has become the gold standard for sexual misconduct climate assessment, requested by more than 500 higher education institutions worldwide and implemented by more than 300. The ARC3 instrument is the foundation for Ireland’s national postsecondary survey and is being eyed in the United Kingdom’s nascent work on a similar national survey.

The majority of American states that have passed survey mandates also use the ARC3 in addition to statewide sexual misconduct climate assessments for public university systems in Pennsylvania and Texas.

The ARC3 has quietly continued its work since 2015, providing our student survey along with technical documents and a preprogrammed online survey version. When asked, the collaborative provides personal assistance, too. A companion survey for faculty and staff allows all members of the campus community to share their experiences to help promote positive change. But with climate surveys becoming required to the degree that they are, we can do more.

In light of these latest mandates, we are embarking on a new phase.

Becoming a Place for Solutions

We are launching a semiannual offering of the ARC3 survey—in late fall and early spring, to capture victimization that often spikes in the first months of freshman year—where schools can enroll en masse, have their data analyzed and receive a findings report.

We will also offer the specific modified state-mandated ARC3 survey variations, provided they are provided publicly and freely for use. Similar to the CIRP or NSSE surveys, we hope that offering this kind of collective assessment option will keep costs low for schools who cannot afford to create a customized survey and action plan for their campus. The more schools that participate, the lower the cost will be.

Further, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, our chair, Kevin Swartout, is creating a national database and dashboard for de-identified ARC3 survey data to support research and benchmarking. In other words, whether your college enrolls in one of the semiannual ARC3 assessments or uses the ARC3 on their own, there will be benchmarking data available if your institution chooses to opt in to the database.

In addition, we will expand the ARC3 community in the coming years. We launched the ARC3 survey to bridge the gap between researchers and administrators to address collegiate sexual harassment and violence, using research to inform practice and effect real change. In eight years, more research has been done, more innovative and promising programs and efforts have been launched, and more people have entered our field doing this work, day in and day out. We invite new colleagues to join our efforts and help us update the survey and ensure its measurements are the most accurate and offer practical solutions for schools to try based on their survey findings.

Every institution we have engaged with asks us what works to reduce sexual assault, so we hope to become a hub of open resources and research: a place for solutions. It’s also essential for us to provide opportunities for students—graduate students in particular, but also undergraduates—to engage in data analysis and prevention work so that we can promote the next generation of scholars and practitioners.

In opening up an opportunity to make the survey’s administration more accessible, it’s imperative to do the same with our overall work as well. As we move into this new phase, we will provide updates and a national call for interested researchers, administrators and students starting this summer at a new website,, especially since we anticipate conducting the first ARC3 collective survey this fall.

A Call to Action

The ARC3 was originally formed in light of the 2014 “Not Alone” Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault and the recommendation that every institution conduct sexual misconduct climate surveys as the essential foundation for their efforts to combat the epidemic of sexual violence that has plagued our collegiate communities.

To meet that moment, the ARC3 was born. A decade later, we find ourselves in a similar place—but now, we come at it with renewed hope and more assessment resources and experience. Watching the nation’s institutions of higher education mobilize to simultaneously research and address COVID-19 was an inspiration: we had a public health epidemic, and we addressed it head-on, managed it, prevented it within our communities.

With sexual misconduct, we can do it again.

Meredith Smith is senior vice president at Rankin Climate, a firm that assists college and universities with campus climate assessment. Kevin Swartout is executive vice president at Rankin Climate. Both authors curated, compiled, assembled and helped establish the ARC3 survey.

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