The Health and Resilience (H&R) Research Division within the Office of People Analytics (OPA) has conducted congressionally mandated gender relations assessments at the Academies since 2005.1 Title 10, United States Code (U.S.C.), Sections 4361, 6980, and 9361, as amended by Section 532 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2007, codified an assessment cycle at the Military Service Academies (MSA) that consists of alternating surveys and focus groups. This requirement applies to the DoD Service Academies (U.S. Military Academy [USMA], U.S. Naval Academy [USNA], and U.S. Air Force Academy [USAFA]). These regular assessments are known as the Service Academy Gender Relations (SAGR) project.
Despite years of concerted effort, results from the SAGR have found that many cadets and midshipmen experience sexual assault and/or sexual harassment at the Academy (Davis et al., 2019), highlighting the need for a continued focus on prevention of sexual assault and harassment specifically, as well as violence and harm more generally. Importantly, results from SAGR focus groups have consistently identified student leaders/influencers as critical, but unequipped, prevention messengers (Barry et al., 2020). This is consistent with “social diffusion” theory, whereby influential individuals within social networks are key to the diffusion of new ideas and behaviors. Indeed, numerous effective public health interventions leverage the outsize impacts that influencers have within their social networks to promulgate information and norms and ultimately change behaviors (Kelly, 1991 Bush et al 2019, Coker et al 2017, Rogers, 1983; Strang & Soule, 1998).
In order to provide actionable insights to inform prevention efforts at the Academies, and building on ideas from social diffusion theory, OPA, in conjunction with the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), conducted the 2021 Academy Climate and Networking Study (2021 ACNS). This study departed from the traditional SAGR focus group methodology and employed a mixed-methods approach, which included an online survey and virtual focus groups.
The results of the 2021 ACNS are designed to equip the Academies to continue to enhance and refine their prevention efforts in three ways. First, these findings will allow the Academies to better identify students who are likely to be highly influential in order to leverage these students in prevention efforts. Next, these findings highlight norms on campus that can contribute to risk of violence and harm; targeting these norms is a promising intervention avenue. Finally, these findings highlight ways to engage students that are more likely to be effective. We recommend that the Academies employ these strategies within their prevention activities, formally evaluate their effectiveness, and modify as needed until the desired effect is achieved.The purpose of this executive report is to describe the statistical and study methodology employed on the 2021 Academy Climate and Networking Study (2021 ACNS) and provide top-level findings.