On March 25, Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Mañjon emailed a Campus Climate Survey to students, faculty, and staff.
Less than 12 percent of the student body had completed the survey as of Monday, April 8. Four reminder emails have been sent from various faculty and staff members, including one earlier this week from Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley. According to Mañjon, although student response rates have been low, the faculty and staff response rate is currently already over 40 percent.
The survey is a part of the Making Excellence Inclusive (MEI) Initiative, which the University launched in the spring of 2010. The MEI is composed of a series of programs designed to spark discussion about issues of diversity and inequality on campus. The goal of these programs is to make the University feel more inclusive to all students.
The Campus Climate Survey will provide quantitative data to supplement verbal and written testimony of individuals who have expressed issues of discomfort with certain aspects of the campus culture. Mañjon said the data that the survey will provide will be integral to the mission of all of the programs in the MEI initiative.
“This data will substantiate what I’ve [been] saying all along,” Mañjon said. “When I go into cabinet meetings and talk about the climate of certain segments of the student population, my colleagues around the table are asking, ‘How do you substantiate that?’”
Wesleyan belongs to a consortium of Liberal Arts Diversity Officers (LADO) with its peer institutions, including Middlebury, Amherst, Williams, and Connecticut College. Each LADO school has chief diversity officers in high-ranked administrative positions. Diversity Officers at several other LADO schools are in the process of implementing the same Campus Climate Survey on their campuses.
The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles developed the Campus Climate Survey. The University chose the survey because it includes both specific questions about issues of diversity and inequality and more general questions about a student’s relationship with other social, academic, and extracurricular aspects of campus life. Mañjon sees this survey as a way to compare the issues of the student body at Wesleyan with the issues of students at other peer institutions.
Mañjon has received emails from students who stated that they did not finish or refrained from starting the survey because it was too long. She explained that she was shocked that some students suggested that she offer incentives to complete the survey.
“I would hope that as a result of the Diversity University forum that happened last semester, that students would want to understand the climate on campus around issues like this and that would be incentive enough for them to take it,” Mañjon said. “As students, this is your campus. At the end of the day, you’re either invested in it and think things are fine, or you think there are areas in which…we can improve. The response rate will let me know how serious students are about this.”
Most students agree that the issue of evaluating the campus climate is important, but some argue that a 20-minute anonymous survey is not the best approach to maximize student response rates. Tessa Bellone ’16 thought that the survey was spam at first until she was sent more emails about it. She stopped taking the survey after opening it when she realized that it was optional.
“I had other things on my mind, so it didn’t seem like a priority,” Bellone said. “I also assumed that since it is such a pressing issue, other people would do it, so if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
Many students reported being deterred from completing the survey because of its length. Crystal Wright ’16 suggested that students will be unlikely to devote more than 10 minutes to an optional survey. Wright has not completed the survey. Johnny LaZebnik ’16 began the survey, but upon realizing how long it was, stopped working on it.
“The more of it I took, the less accurate it got because I was so frantic to get done with it,” Lazebnik said.
Rachel Fox ’16 reported being confused by the use of the word “climate” in the survey’s title.
“At first I thought that it was about the weather,” she said. “I didn’t see much of a point in completing a survey about that.”
Many students claimed they were unsure whether the phrase “Campus Climate” was referring to the effects of global climate change on campus or to the general atmosphere of the University’s student body. According to Dean for Diversity and Student Engagement Renee Johnson-Thornton, the word “climate” was used to refer to the social culture at the University. Johnson-Thornton also oversees the Campus Climate Log, an online forum for testimonials, event listings, and other discussions of diversity and inclusion on campus.
“The whole mention of climate comes from research,” Johnson-Thornton said. “It came from an article years ago that was talking about the experiences that some women were having when they felt a chilly environment in certain spaces…They felt like, ‘Yes, you’re allowed to come in,’ but [they didn’t] really feel the warmth.”
Johnson-Thornton also hopes that the results of the survey will aid the MEI in developing and expanding its programmatic initiatives, which include the Beman Triangle Project, efforts to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and the Wesleyan Diversity Education Facilitation Program (WesDEF).
The Beman Triangle Project is an archaeological and sociological exploration of the area bounded by Vine Street, Cross Street, and Knowles Avenue that was once the site of a 19th-century African American community associated with the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The MEI is also working to ensure that the University’s historical holdings, including sacred remains and objects of Native American tribes, are in compliance with NAGPRA requirements. The WesDEF program, also funded by the MEI, trains students to be diversity facilitators and educators on campus.
The Campus Climate survey will provide information as to which programs the University should adapt while moving forward.
“We want to do good work,” Johnson-Thornton said. “We have models that show that we are doing good work. With the help of this survey, we will move from theory to practice and make sure that as the population of students that enroll in top colleges becomes more diverse, we are creating an environment where everyone will thrive.”