Notre Dame’s Necessary Climate Change


Notre Dame releases “deeply troubling” findings on student rapes in its second “Student Climate” survey.

The university recently released the results of a 2015 survey of the entire student body respecting sexual assaults. The report discloses the gravity of this problem. With 38% of the students responding, a “deeply troubling” 6% of females and 2% of males reported they had been raped. Even more startling, 52% of those rapes occurred during the prior year — on average 10 a month. Another “concerning” report: 19% of females and 2% of males reported they had been sexually assaulted in other ways.  Only 8 of 27 other schools reported a higher incidence of sexual assaults. 

We limit this bulletin to a more detailed description of these results. The broad subject of sexual assault at universities in general and Notre Dame in particular — its extent, causes, prevention, disclosure, and punishment — is complex and controversial. We will deal with these issues in a series of bulletins in the near future.

Nature of the Survey

The survey mirrors one sponsored by the Association of American Universities and administered at 27 major universities. Notre Dame’s was taken in January and February of 2015, with 43% of females and 33% of males responding. The questions covered a range of issues including knowledge of the school’s policies and procedures, satisfaction with and confidence in those procedures, the proportion of assaults reported, and the like.

Other universities released results in the fall of 2015, and Notre Dame students pressed the administration to follow suit. When it finally released the report on April 17, 2016, the university explained it had waited until it had devised new methods to deal with the problems the report revealed. Students complained that this left scant time for discussion before the school year ended.

Rapes — Incidence

As the university candidly acknowledged, the data on rapes are “deeply troubling.”

Six percent of females and two percent of males reported having been raped while at Notre Dame. This represents 140 rapes of females and 43 of males.

But worse, 52% of the reported rapes of females and 50% of the rape of males had occurred during the past year. That means 73 rapes of females and 21-22 of males, or about 10 a month assuming that almost all occurred during the regular school year.

Because this seemed unusual, we checked the federally mandated Clery Act reports of sexual assaults and found that this same spike in rapes at Notre Dame was reflected there – a doubling of reported rapes in the last two reporting years.

Rapes — Location

Most of the reported rapes occurred in residence halls (41%) or in an off-campus student residences (38%). Four percent occurred somewhere else on campus and 18% somewhere else off-campus.

“Non-consensual Sexual Contact” (Sexual Assault)

While attempted rape, forcible groping and the like are generally referred to as sexual assaults, Notre Dame includes them under the heading “non-consensual sexual contact.”

Nineteen percent of females and four percent of males reported having been victimized in this way. Overall, then, 25% of females reported forcible sexual assaults including rapes, as did 6% of males.  This  comes to 584 assaults of females and 130 of males.

Notre Dame’s results were worse than most of the schools taking the AAU survey. Only 8 of the 27 participating universities reported a higher percentage of sexual assaults than Notre Dame’s.  The 18 schools with better records included the University of Texas, Texas A & M, Cal Tech, the University of Florida, Iowa State, and Purdue.

Reliability of Reports

These data reflect reports of rapes and other sexual assaults, not findings of adjudicatory bodies after contested hearings. But the university, with good reason and to its credit, does not suggest the data are unreliable, and therefore neither do we.

Where both the person reporting and the alleged assailant are anonymous, there is no evident incentive to falsify. It is reasonable to assume in the case of rapes, for example, that there was penetration and that the person reporting sincerely believes she or he did not in fact consent, though it cannot be said that the alleged assailant had no reason to believe otherwise.

Certainly these data are a great deal more reliable in terms of measuring the magnitude of the problem than the data on official complaints of sexual assaults, which notoriously understate the actual incidence of offenses. One section of the survey lists a host of reasons students do not report offenses, e.g., “afraid to get in trouble for other violations” (90% “serious” or “somewhat”), “afraid their reputation would be damaged” (94%), “think that reporting won’t solve anything” (89%); “concern that others wouldn’t believe them” (83%).

Experience of the Entire Student Body?

As we’ve said, the survey results relate to 43% of female and 33% of male students. The participation was large and the results confirmed the seriousness of the situation, but obviously they are not representative of the entire student body. Those who were victimized were more likely to respond than those who were not — presumably more so in the case of rapes than other types of sexual assaults. All that can safely be said is that for the entire student body the absolute numbers would be larger but the percentages smaller.

Risk Factor — Failure to Disclose

The survey was a “snapshot” cross-sectional study of students in all four undergraduate classes and graduate school, and accordingly the data as disclosed are not directly related to the risk of sexual assault for a student over four years at Notre Dame. The administration almost certainly has data that would be so related, i.e., the responses of the senior class. The numbers of participants are listed by class, e.g., 2,131 seniors, 2,103 juniors, and it seems unlikely in the extreme that their responses to questions were somehow detached from their designation of class. Nevertheless, the university did not respond to our question about the senior class data.


This report establishes that Notre Dame is seriously affected by the sexual assault phenomenon on the nation’s campuses that has triggered widespread alarm. As we said at the outset, we will explore this subject in much greater detail in subsequent bulletins. But we add to our summary of this worrisome report that one should bear in mind that percentages and averages lump together students frequently in “at risk” situations involving alcohol and a “hook up” sub-culture with those who avoid both. College can be a dangerous place for some but not for others.


Gender medley — So much for Pope Francis!

An alumnus reports that an April ND Parent Survey “asks for both the student’s and parents’s  gender with three responses! Female, Male, or Specify.” Rather unhelpful, is it not? Gender studies experts are providing an ever-expanding universe of options for “Specify,” such as Genderfluid, Two-Spirit, Agender, Third Gender, Non-Binary, Transgender (to be distinguished from Transsexual, Trans Man, and Trans Woman), and Genderqueer. For the advanced self-diagnostician, there is the Facebook 58 Varieties list, which adds such important refinements as Neutrois, Pangender, Transmasciuline and Trans (guess) feminine, and, for the terminally confused, Transperson.

Alternatively, those in charge of these matters for the universities might take Pope Francis into account:  “Let’s think of gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation. With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator.”

Archbishop Chaput at Notre Dame.

Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput

The estimable Notre Dame Tocqueville Program is bringing to the university on Thursday, September 15, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, to speak on  “Sex, Family, and the Liberty of the Church: Authentic Freedom in Our Emancipated Age.” All are invited. Those who are attending the football game on the 17th,  take note. Archbishop Chaput, the chairman-elect of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, is one of the country’s most gifted and courageous voices on religious liberty, same-sex marriage, and other  issues relating to the Church’s teaching s on sex, marriage, and family.  The talk is in the afternoon with a dinner in the evening for those who respond in time. The details are here.

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