Science Summary

Spring 2018 / Dana Humphrey / April 6, 2018

A recap of research worth noting.

Sexual Assault Prevention Programs Prove Effective
A new meta analysis in the Journal of American College Health reviews the effectiveness of bystander programs that address sexual violence on college campuses. The systematic review examined twenty-four studies to ascertain their effect on college student attitudes, beliefs and bystander behaviors, such as intervening in a potentially harmful situation. The analysis found that students who participated in bystander programs, when compared to those who had not, were more likely to hold pro-social attitudes and beliefs about sexual violence and engaged in more bystander behavior. The study found that though the positive effects diminished over time, meaningful changes persisted for at least three months after the intervention, and that longer programs had the largest effects on attitudes and beliefs. The authors concluded that bystander programs can be a valuable addition to colleges' violence prevention efforts.

Another study published in the Journal of American College Health, Unblurring the lines of sexual consent with a college student-driven sexual consent education campaign, examined the effectiveness of a college student-driven sexual consent education campaign at a large, public Midwestern university. Researchers surveyed 992 undergraduate students before, during, and after the campaign's implementation about their exposure to the campaign and their understanding of sexual consent. They found that the consent education campaign improved students understanding of consent with college men and members of university-affiliated Greek organizations experiencing the greatest improvements in understanding.

Stigma and Help Seeking
A new UCLA-led study published in Social Science and Medicine found that on college campuses where there is higher stigma toward mental health issues, there is less treatment-seeking behavior among students. The study examined data from the Healthy Minds Study at the University of Michigan, an online survey conducted annually that examines mental health, service utilization and related issues among undergraduate and graduate students in the U.S. Using data from over 60,000 students on 75 college and university campuses between 2009 and 2015, S. Michael Gaddis et al found that school level stigma is negatively associated with medication use, counseling and therapy visits. The researchers found that students in high-stigma environments were less likely to acknowledge their mental health struggles or admit to suicidal thoughts or self-injury. Furthermore, college students who experience suicidal thoughts were found to be less likely to seek treatment if they attended a college with higher level of stigma around mental health. Gaddis, the study’s lead author, said the researchers were surprised by the extent of variation in levels of stigma across campuses, and suggested that policymakers implement changes to significantly reduce stigma at the school level.

In a separate study published in the Journal for American College Health, researchers found that students who were aware of people close to them seeking help were two times more likely to have sought formal and informal help themselves. Study authors concluded that learning about others’ help seeking is important for students, male students in particular, in facilitating their own help seeking during times of distress.

Racial disparity in Completion Rates
A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center highlighted the racial disparity in persistence and completion rates for African-American and Hispanic students. According to the report, "When examined by race and ethnicity, Asian and white students had much higher completion rates (68.9 percent and 66.1 percent, respectively) than Hispanic and black students (48.6 percent and 39.5 percent, respectively). Black students represent the only group that is more likely to drop out or discontinue enrollment than to complete a credential within six years." Among students who started the education at four-year public institutions, black students had the lowest six-year completion rate, 46.0 percent, almost 10 points lower than Hispanic students (55.7 percent). 71.7 percent of white students and 75.8 percent of of Asian students completed a degree within that same time. Black student fare best at four-year private, non-profit institutions, with a six-year completion rate of 57.3 percent. Asian, Hispanic and white students also complete at these institutions at higher rates.

Striving for Perfection and Mental Health
A new research study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin shows that today’s college students strive for perfection more than previous generations, which may be damaging their mental health. In an analysis of nearly 42,000 college students from the United States, Canada and Britain from 1989 to 2016, lead author Thomas Curran of the University of Bath and co-author Andrew Hill of York St. John University defined perfectionism as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others” and identified three distinct types: self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented. The authors observed that the number of young adults falling into each category has jumped by at least 10 percent since 1989, with the most drastic increase in perfectionism attributed to socially prescribed perfectionism which increased by 33%. These findings indicate that recent generations of college students have higher expectations of themselves and others than previous generations. Thomas Curran said, “Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth.” Curran and Hill attribute the rise in perfectionism to a number of factors, including the pressures of social media and the tendency to compare. According to the authors, todays college students are exceptionally driven to succeed academically and compare themselves to their peers, and universities encourage this competition among students. The researchers claim that perfectionism may be linked to the rise in mental health issues on college campuses, that young people are cracking under the pressure to be at their best in school and on social media. They urge schools and policymakers to curb their efforts to foster competition among their students in order to preserve their mental health.

Disability and Sexual Assault Prevention
According to a new study by the National Council on Disability, colleges are not effectively addressing the needs of students with disabilities in their sexual assault prevention efforts, policies, or procedures. Recent research has revealed that 31.6 percent of undergraduate females with disabilities reported nonconsensual sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, compared to 18.4 percent of undergraduate females without a disability. This means one out of every three undergraduate students with a disability was a victim of sexual violence on campus. Through two national questionnaires, and phone interviews with college administrators, and experts on sexual assault on college campuses and sexual abuse against people with disabilities, the National Council on Disability examined how colleges respond to and prevent sexual assault, and support survivors of sexual assault with disabilities. The study found that campus sexual assault prevention and education programs are not inclusive of students with disabilities, staff are not trained in disability accommodations, and college staff lack awareness that such programs should be accessible to students with disabilities.