UMD administration, staff talk campus climate

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dumlao

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dumlao

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In the fall of 2015, UMD conducted a campus climate survey to capture the campus’ feelings in creating a more diverse and inclusive university. In the fall of 2016, the results of the survey were presented to faculty, staff and students. The survey indicated both high levels of comfort and areas where there is room for improvement.

The survey defines climate as “the current attitudes, behaviors, and standards of employees and students concerning the access for, inclusion of, the level of respect for individual and group needs, abilities, and potential.”

“Ultimately it reflects how well UMD itself is doing as a campus that strives for inclusivity and diversity,” Lynne Williams, university director of marketing and public relations, said. “The question is not only what is UMD doing to make campus more inclusive but are the efforts successful.”

It is indicated that students had high levels of comfort with the overall climate at UMD with 76 percent of respondents indicating that they were “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with the climate at UMD on the survey. Seventy-four percent of faculty and staff said that they were “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with the climate in their departments/work units at UMD.

Although these results are positive, the survey showed that the number of respondents that said they were comfortable or very comfortable were predominantly Caucasian students.

It was also indicated that students had positive attitudes about their academic experiences. According to the survey, students perceive that their campus climate positively influences their performance and success in college.

On the other hand, 18 percent of students indicated that they personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct. Thirty-one percent indicated that the conduct was based on their gender/gender identity, 26 percent indicated the conduct was based on their ethnicity and 20 percent stated it was based on their racial identity.

Lisa Erwin, vice chancellor for student life and dean of students, said that there are a variety of explanations for these results and the survey definitely helps to pinpoint those reasons.

“The survey at least allows us to identify those pockets where there is struggle and then we know where we can focus,” Williams said.

Susana Woodward, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said that since they got the results of the survey, they shared them with the community and then had discussions with people about what they learned. This is what they call their “idea sessions.”

“It is not just about the data and the percentages, but we also needed to talk to people about what their experiences are,” Woodward said.

Since the results of the survey, staff members have conducted a total of six idea sessions with students, faculty and staff. The idea sessions allowed them to not only focus on the numerical analysis of the data but the quality of the data as well. This gave a deeper insight and allowed the university to pull some themes from the results.

“After gathering a great deal of feedback from the campus community about the climate survey results, UMD developed three areas of focus: Make UMD more diverse, make UMD more inclusive and work on anti-civility and bullying,” Erwin said. “Now units across campus are working on initiatives that support the three areas of focus.”

According to Woodward, they are currently inviting all of the unit change teams, departments and everyone on campus to look at the three major areas needed to improve upon on campus in an effort to make UMD more inclusive and diverse.

According to the UMD site, unit change teams were implemented to help “Identify and develop promising practices in efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive campus climate at a unit level (unit, department, collegiate unit).”

Erwin said that progress on the three areas of focus is really important for all students, faculty and staff.

“It helps UMD make progress on strategic plan goal 2: ‘Create a positive and inclusive campus climate for all by advancing equity, diversity, and social justice,’” Erwin said.

“Some other things you have probably seen on campus are things like the ‘we all belong’ posters,” Williams said. “These help to reiterate what are our core values, expectations, and a lot of that comes from the campus climate survey and us deciding that we need to be more upfront and vocal.”

After the survey indicated that four percent of students said they had experienced unwanted sexual assault, Woodward said that they are also continuing to work on a better reporting process for sexual assault, harassment and stalking.

“This is something that everyone needs to take responsibility for,” Williams said. “It doesn’t just come out of the office of diversity and inclusion, it doesn’t just come out of student leadership, there are different parts that everyone can play a role in.”

Woodward said that all of the collegiate units, academic affairs, and chancellor’s office have their own campus unit change teams dedicated to their department.

The total cost to conduct the survey was about $17,000. The survey is conducted by an outside consultant who creates studies for institutions all across the country. According to Woodward, the original plan was to conduct a campus climate survey every three years, however, they found that three years is not ideal.

“Three years is not enough,” Woodward said. “We have one year where we conduct the survey one semester, then the next semester is the results, then we collect data and ideas and present it. Now we are just in the part of being able to implement all of the recommendations that we are taking.”

Williams said that they will be revisiting the idea of a new campus climate survey when the time is right.

“I think that the campus is committed to continuing to keep this a priority but in terms of when that next formal survey is conducted is still up in the air,” Williams said. “This doesn’t stop us from continuing to have regular conversations with different groups around campus on the topic.

According to the Assessment of Climate for Learning, Living, and Working Executive Summary, UMD campus climate findings were consistent with those found in other higher education institutions across the country.

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