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.

21 Responses to “Notre Dame’s Necessary Climate Change”

  1. I’m very late reading this. Did the survey ask if the same respondent had multiple occurrences of sexual assault, on different occasions? or if the respondent was assaulted multiple times on the same occasion? Did the survey ask if assaults were by students or non-students? Did the survey ask if the assaults were connected in any way with alcohol or other drugs?

    • N to all. The survey did ask about location, e.g., on campus, in residence hall, off campus, in off-campus residence,

  2. Charles J. Schubert August 8, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Just as the dumbing down of America continues apace, so has the Notre Dame I attended (1948 to 1952). I have railed against Friar Jenkins from the first day he set Notre Dame on the Secular-Progressive path to a liberal, Jesuit-type university such as Georgetown, BC, Marquette University etal. Father Jenkins’ refusal to meet with the Seeberg family is the final insult he brings to the Notre Dame family. And let us not forget the Laetare Medal he “rewarded” the pro-abortion, pro same-sex-marriage, pro stem cell research VP, Joe Biden. I will celebrate my 88th birthday on June 1, 2017 and fly from my home in Castle Rock, Colorado to Notre Dame for my 65th class reunion. I will continue to pray that a good csc priest of Father Wilson Miscamble’s ability is named as the replacement to Father Jenkins. Pax, Charlie Schubert (’52)

  3. So here again we have the same ole stuff of moral equivalency of John Jenkins. Without Christ centered leadership and example in moral structure and expectations, then the supposedly “Catholic” university cannot exist. This one may as well be called the godless City College of South Bend because without Christ, it has no reason to be. This school, Notre Dame, is an embarrassment to Catholicism and causes its high profile to justify negative beliefs, injurious to all.

  4. Charles Smith MD August 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    The culture of sexual freedom, made practical by contraception,abortion, has flourished since traditional Christian morality has been regulated to an historical curiosity. The Christian conscience has been down regulated to such a low threshold that the higher levels of our brain no longer light up when the lower levels are activated. ( functional MRI scans) Thus the self control neurotracks have begun to atrophy. The brains attending colleges are in fact anatomically and functionally different than those roaming the halls of ivy back in the day. They can be remodeled but it will take the return to what we use to call virtue attained through repeated habitual actions beginning at a young age.

  5. It is a really disturbing report, Fran, and I add that I think the most startling item is ten rapes a month on average during the prior year. As to the risk of sexual assault over four years, as we said one cannot tell from these data and the university did not respond to our inquiry about sexual assaults of seniors. First, the 25% is 25% of the 43% of females reporting out of the entire student body. Presumably there were fewer sexual assaults in the non-responding 57%. The percentage, then, would be substantially lower, thought the number would be larger. That would reduce the percentage to some indeterminate degree. On the other hand, almost surely there were more sexual assaults of seniors than of students in the other three classes. This would raise the percentage of students over their time at Notre Dame. I add that figures in this are always somewhat rubbery. What can be said, and as a practical matter all that need be said, is that the report shows that the problem of rape and other forms of sexual assault at Notre Dame is very serious.

  6. 25% of reporting females had some kind of forced sexual assault? That’s incredible. Over four years at Notre Dame will nearly every woman experience that? Shocking in a Catholic university with an 80% or so Catholic student body.

  7. Joseph Lewis Heil, PLS, 1959 August 5, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Do ND students have complete, unfiltered access to the Internet, i.e., including pornography? Porn is a cause of deviant and oftentimes hyper-aggressive, sexual predatory behavior. I suspect students must access the Internet through university servers. If that’s the case, could not the university install a porn filter/firewall? Surely, that could not be objected to at Our Lady’s university. Or could it?

    • Yes, students do have unfiltered access to Internet porn, as we reported in an earlier bulletin. And yes, the university has the ability to filter. The university’s response to our inquiry as to why they don’t was that they trusted the students to avoid the porn. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  8. Christopher Manion August 5, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    I was baptized in Sacred Heart and graduated in 1968. My father started teaching at Notre Dame 96 years ago. My love for ND ran long and deep. But Ralph McInerny, my friend, teacher, and Notre Dame’s greatest teacher in history (except for dad, of course) had it right: Notre Dame has sacrificed its soul on the altar of “the vulgar lust for prestige.”

    I gave up on ND (but not on Our Lady) after Lizzy Seeberg died. Lizzy was a freshman at SMC who, six years ago this month, claimed that a Notre Dame student had forcibly undressed her to the waist and fondled her, and was trying to go further when somebody knocked on the door.

    Unfortunately for Lizzy, the student assailant was from Notre Dame’s most prestigious (alas) component, the football team.

    Lizzy did everything right. She went to the police, she went to a counselor, and she waited.

    Meanwhile, another football player threatened her repeatedly. The ND police did nothing (a South Bend policeman reportedly explained that, while police can go directly to any normal student, with football players you had to go through the coach).

    Lizzie committed suicide twelve days later.

    The football player never missed a practice to never missed a game. Notre Dame’s “professional” police force was not so responsible. After all, it was heavily involved in home game traffic planning, the clueless captain actually told some news outlet.

    Priorities, priorities.

    The District Attorney couldn’t file charges, since the victim was, well, unavailable. The accused football player continued to play every week, every year, with the full support of the coach. He was eventually drafted by the Atlanta Falcons where, surprise, surprise, he was fired (oops – “put on waivers”) because he had killed his girlfriend’s dog in a fit of rage.

    I must admit, it is amazing to imagine that moral standards in the NFL are higher than those at Notre Dame.r

    I translate for law enforcement, and a long time ago Sheriff Armentrout told me, “always report minor crimes – if they’ve done this, they’ve done something else.”

    Every semester I receive a call right on schedule from Notre Dame’s development office. The caller is always female, always undergrad, always friendly. After inquiring about her background, her studies, and how her faith is working out, she usually breaks in and says, “well, I’m actually calling to see if you’d be willing to donate to the Rockne Fund.” (Rockne was a friend of dad’s who taught Chemistry. Nice that they’ve named a fund after him).

    That’s when I ask, “Does the name Lizzy Seeberg mean anything to you?”

    It never does. And so I ask them, and I ask everybody, to find out about Lizzy. Tell your friends about her. Notre Dame betrayed her, Notre Dame wants to forget her, but we can’t.

    • The Lizzy Seeberg case was as sad an event as one can imagine, Chris. Thanks for writing about it. We’ll cover it in a later bulletin. One aspect that I heard a lot about, understandably, was Fr Jenkins’s refusal to meet with Lizzie’s parents. The family has deep Notre Dame roots, and Tom Seeberg’s comments have been measured and moving. Father Jenkins’s explanation was that if there were an appeal from an administrative determination he would be the judge and therefore had to avoid any appearance of partiality. Wrong. The regulations did not require that the president hear the appeal, but rather that someone from the president’s office hear it. In any case, this is pastoral?

  9. George Shelton '74 August 5, 2016 at 10:50 am

    As a former member of an audit committee for a University, it is key that any incident, no matter how minor it maybe be investigated and documented as called for under Title IX of the US code.

    The negative ramifications of Federal involvement need to be avoided at all costs.

    I hope the Univesity has an appropriate education and notification program in place that helps all students report these unfortunate incidents at the University.

    • Quite right, George. The university has spent a good deal of time on this matter, and it you’ll look at the Report you’ll see that large parts of the survey relate to the students’ awareness of available resources, their confidence in the administrative process, their willingness to report, and the like. It is a subject as to which their is a great deal of controversy across the higher education landscape. For example, should the burden of proof be a mere preponderance of the evidence — 51% — or something more demanding — clear and convincing, behind a reasonable doubt, etc. DOE investigated ND several years ago and found defects, and there is an investigation pending as to which the university will not comment. We’ll get into these matters in later bulletins. Here, we limit our report to the facts disclosed by the survey.

  10. I attempted to respond to the Notre Dame magazine article but thought that others might be more persuasive. I find it hard to believe that Sycamore has not trashed the statistical smorgasbord presented by the hysterical NOW representatives on campus. (by the way, physical touching is battery not assault). I’ve had 3 daughters and one son attend ND. The youngest a 2008 grad. None of my daughters noted such behavior that wasn’t consensual. My son however was subjected to the lynch mob of the honor council where he was accused of making lewd comments to girls at an adjacent dorm. Words he, having 4 sisters, had never used. Let’s not join the hysteria, Males should not be presumed guilty. Are we stuck in the Catholic school myth that women have no sexual desires or that allegedly being the weaker sex are incapable of resisting sexual advances while being qualified for Army special forces?

    • I’m not sure what ND Magazine article you have in mind, Dennis. Our bulletin relates to the Sexual Climate report, not to any article. The figures are what they are. As we said, they are anonymous reports of incidents, not adjudicated cases. But as we also said, ND didn’t question their substantial accuracy not can we think of any reason to do so. It may be another matter as to some accusations made to the school’s administrative body where the accusing female (or male) may have some ulterior reason to accuse (though one would think such cases to be relatively — relatively — rare). As to the fairness of the procedures, there is certainly reason for disagreement. The Harvard Law School faculty denounced them as denying fair process to the accused, for example. We’ll get into this in a later bulletin. Here, as we said, we are simply reporting the results of a survey that does not appear to have been slanted in either direction. I await your reaction to our later bulletins on the issues you raise.

  11. Colleen Sullivan August 5, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I graduated ND in 1989 and my daughter is now attending Indiana Wesleyan in Marion, IN. The difference in rules in the residence halls is striking. Similar to what someone said above — outside of move-in/move-out weekends boys are restricted to the common areas and not the rooms, and even in the common areas there are no 24 hour lounges. Boys are out at 11 on weekdays 1 I think or weekends. There is no beer/wine in the rooms allowed and they students cannot move to an apartment or off-campus house until they are 21 or a senior. If the university is serious about cutting down on the rape culture, they should change the rules in the residence halls, and also teach chastity and theology of the body to incoming freshman rather than have non-Catholic teachers of Theo 101 with no morality. I remember well my ND Jewish professor at ND who had no faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Indiana Wesleyan also has chapel twice a week. The student pastors take seriously not just the call to nurture the students personal relationship with Christ but also 1) help them follow closely after Christ under the working of the Holy Spirit to be conformed to Christ and not to the world, 2) help them seek their calling/vocation. This was missing at ND when I was there. There was the weekly Mass with the homily but that was not equivalent to what is provided at non-Catholic faithful Christian universities. Morality was simply not spoken of in frank terms. While scripture is explicit on morality, the homilies I heard at ND and afterward in the Archdiocese of Chicago were not.

    • This is am instructive comparison, Colleen. The Clery Act reports of sexual assaults that I’ve examined show that smaller evangelical and Catholic schools have a much better record than others, and while I realize Indiana Wesleyan is larger than Indiana, it is obviously strongly evangelical. The fact that it is large testifies to the effectiveness of its regulations and instruction. I checked the Clery Act reports. The school has had one reported forcible sexual assault in the last three reporting years and zero reported rapes. We will discuss in subsequent bulletins the sexual assault prevention at ND. It is certainly a matter to which the university pays considerable attention, but the data in this bulletin suggest that it is not working very well. Excessive drinking, the hookup culture, the absence of moral theology instruction, the emphasis on “consent” and the concurrent implication that there’s nothing much wrong with fornication — all are problems. I should add, though that since your time at ND the theology department has been very much improved. It is now a first rate department on the whole, though the fact that graduate students teach the majority of the sections in the one required subject is a problem. Stay tuned!

  12. Tim McKeogh '80, '81 MA August 5, 2016 at 5:11 am

    The tragic findings of the study likely suggest how alcohol abuse (e.g. Weekend binge-drinking) may contribute to many of these assaults. Beer has always been the “drug of choice” at Notre Dame. It’s easy for the Administartion to say “Don’t drink!” to those under 21 but the reality is that there are no models for legal light/moderate use or for abstainance. When otherwise intelligent people abuse alcohol they can do stupid things.
    It’s important that these assault cases be legally prosecuted. One may assume that the University’s biggest fault here likely lies in handling assault cases internally and not brining in local authorities as often as they should. The threat of penalties are less (or non-existent perhaps) than if they were dealt with in the legal system. An attitutude like this might even encourage assault.

    • Tim, you are surely right about drinking being at the heart of the matter. It is involved in almost all of the cases. ND has strict rules — it purports to follow state law and it prohibits liquor and beer in the dorms — but scant enforcement. We’ll deal with the procedures for handling sexual assault cases in a later bulletin.

  13. Patricia Baldwin August 5, 2016 at 5:04 am

    One solution: more restrictions in campus dorms. I went to a state university fifty years ago. No men allowed in our rooms except on moving days and Family Weekend. We had to go down to the lobby to meet anyone visiting us. Study dates were held in the study room. We had curfews. We had check-in at night. If you weren’t in, your roommates would report it because they would know something was wrong. If they don’t like it, fine, there are apartments off-campus. We had more freedom because once we crossed the lobby door, we knew only females were there. We never worried if our roommate was “entertaining” leaving us out in the hall. We never worried who might be in the bathroom or shower. Only time we worried was seeing a male because we knew he should not be there. In four years, that happened once and he was a workman with an escort.

    I was 19 when I read in Newsweek that Yale had just introduced a policy of hanging a necktie on the doorknob if a roommate was “entertaining” a female guest. I knew this was going to be a problem even back then.

    • This mirrors the ND regulations of those years. There has been considerable “progress” since. With almost half of the ND sexual assaults having occurred in dorm rooms, a case can certainly be made for some tightening. I fear prospects are bleak at ND. It would be resisted strongly by students and would risk making ND less appealing to prospective applicants. On the plus side, ND still has same-sex dorms, an anachronism in todays universities, where the cutting edge is opposite sex rooms. ‘

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