Years after serious issues, Utah State says students feel safe. Here’s what students and staff told us.

A Utah State survey found 98% of students who responded said they feel safe on campus.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State University in Logan on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

Editor’s note: This story discusses sexual assault. If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault in Utah, you can call the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 801-736-4356. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673.

Logan • In the years following a federal investigation, multiple lawsuits and changes in leadership, Utah State University says that its students feel safe on campus.

A new survey regarding sexual misconduct by USU published last month says the vast majority of students feel secure on campus. Of the students who responded to the survey, 98% said they feel safe on campus, and 86% of student participants thought USU staff respond fairly and appropriately to sexual misconduct allegations.

The latter number is a noticeable improvement from 2017, the first year of conducting the survey and the same year the U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation of USU’s handling of sexual assaults. Back then, 52% of student respondents believed the university responded appropriately to allegations of sexual misconduct. The survey is done every two years by the university.

However, only 10% of USU’s student population responded to the latest study, the lowest turnout since the beginning of the biennial review. Student turnout from the 2017, 2019 and 2021 surveys were 45%, 26% and 14%, respectively.

Despite the declining numbers, Utah State is still confident the survey reflects the overall sentiment on campus.

The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio interviewed eight USU students, and nearly all said they feel safe on campus, but there is always more that can be done to protect students from sexual assault or misconduct.

Claire Ott, a junior in her fourth year at USU, said she hasn’t experienced any safety issues while on campus in Logan.

“I feel pretty safe on campus,” Ott told The Tribune. “There are the occasional incidents and things I’ll hear about, but, me personally … it’s been pretty safe in my experience.”

Ott, who did not take the survey, emphasized that campus safety is subjective, and her experience shouldn’t negate the experiences of others. “I’ve felt very safe, though I know that things do happen,” Ott said.

“Trust doesn’t come free”

Cody Carmichael, Utah State’s Title IX Coordinator, said despite the decreasing survey turnout, he believes the study is reflective of campus.

Carmichael, who started at USU last July, said the recent report reflects positive changes at the university, including the rising number of students and staff on campus who know how to file a sexual misconduct report.

“Since we began doing this report in 2017, we have seen just positive upticks in almost every category that you can really imagine, or every category that we ask questions about,” he said.

Carmichael said consistent communication between university departments — like housing services, student affairs, and public safety — has helped build trust between students and administrators.

“Trust doesn’t come free,” Carmichael said. “We can ask people to trust us, but we have to show that we’re deserving of that trust and that we’re actually doing what we need to do.”

Carmichael also noted how the USU Office of Equity, which houses the Title IX Office, has seen an increased number of people using its resources, according to the office’s 2022-2023 annual report. The report found there was a 25% increase in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct or discrimination submitted to the office between August 2022 to July 2023.

“More people reporting means we’re doing our job, and the culture of the university is becoming more open and transparent,” Matthew Pinner, the executive director of the Office of Equity, said in a December news release. “More people are aware of the options and resources available to them when there’s an experience related to misconduct.”

Between the Office of Equity’s 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 reports, the largest increase in types of cases was regarding a hostile environment, jumping from 218 cases in the 2021-2022 report to 343 in the 2022-2023 report.

Utah State defines a hostile environment as, “unwelcome sex-based conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to an employment or education program or activity.”

In those same years, allegations of sexual assault made to the Office of Equity increased from 87 to 100. The university’s most recent security and safety report, which details on-campus crimes reported to law enforcement, showed there were 4 allegations of rape reported in 2020, 9 in 2021, and 9 in 2022.

Across Logan, the annual number of alleged rapes reported to local police has increased slightly in recent years. Cases grew from 33 in 2019 to 37 in 2020 before dropping to 28 in 2021, according to statistics provided by the Logan Police Department. In 2022 and 2023, Logan police received 34 and 36 reports in the respective years.

What students are saying

In addition to the Office of Equity, USU also has campus resources like the Sexual Assault & Anti-Violence Information Office, or SAAVI.

Unlike the Office of Equity, SAAVI is a confidential resource for students, faculty and staff — meaning the office can provide support for victims without having to report assaults or harassment to more official university channels like the Title IX Office.

One of SAAVI’s main goals is making victims aware of their options, according to director Jenny Erazo.

“SAAVI advocates go through a specialized 40-hour training and can help you navigate your options to get help and report, obtain a forensic exam, accompany you to the police, or answer questions about sexual violence, relationship violence, or stalking,” Erazo said in an email.

Erazo, who has worked at SAAVI for 11 years, said sexual violence is an issue at every campus across the country and thinks it would be naive to assume Utah State is any different.

“There is always work to do to make our campus a safer place either in trying to prevent violence from happening and/or responding in a trauma-informed way to folks who have experienced violence,” she said in an email.

Erazo’s opinion reflects what students told The Tribune. Most of those students said while they do feel safe, the university shouldn’t be letting their guard down.

Mary Littlefield, a junior at USU, said she feels safe on campus, but said there’s always more that can be done for victims of assault.

Claire McCallum, also a junior, agreed. McCallum said it takes courage to contact campus resources regarding sexual misconduct.

First-year student Jason McNeil said he feels safe on campus during the day but is more worried about safety at night. He added he works on campus and went through training sessions through USU regarding safety procedures and how to identify sexual misconduct while on the job.

Daniel Baysinger, a freshman, said he feels safe at USU but acknowledges that as a man he’s less likely to be assaulted on campus.

“Campus could be safer for women,” he said, “and there should always be improvements.”