Campus climate survey a mixed bag

“Campus Climate” put to the test at SOU

Southern Oregon University’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion conducted a campus-wide “Climate Survey” last May to assess the attitudes, perceptions and experiences of students, faculty and staff related to EDI programming and initiatives.

The survey findings revealed that respondents generally felt more satisfied than not with SOU’s overall climate of equity, diversity and inclusion. But students, faculty and staff at the same time gave low ratings to campus diversity and the level of resources committed to diversity efforts.

The results are being used to inform efforts already underway by the EDI office to address concerns and circumstances that may disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), transgender/non-binary and other specific demographic groups on campus.

The survey – designed by SoundRocket, a Michigan-based survey research organization that specializes in higher education consultation – was initiated to measure experiences, beliefs and opinions about diversity, equity and inclusion at SOU. This year’s survey will serve as a baseline to compare against future survey results and gauge SOU’s progress.

“The EDI office is glad to have the findings, and excited to bring even greater data-driven focus to our efforts to improve both the experiences and perceptions of all members of our campus community,” said SOU Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Toya Cooper.

While an overall majority of respondents expressed satisfaction with the university’s climate for equity, diversity and inclusion – and said they had never personally been discriminated against at SOU – the results show key differences in the responses of those from specific racial, ethnic and gender demographics. For instance, 84.4 percent of students, 80.8 percent of staff and 75 percent of faculty said they have never personally felt or experienced discrimination at SOU; but nearly half of the students who said they have experienced discrimination were either BIPOC (23.2 percent) or transgender/non-binary (22.8 percent). Among staff members, 27.5 percent of those who reported experiencing discrimination identified as BIPOC.

Even satisfaction with SOU’s overall climate for equity, diversity and inclusion was a mixed bag, with 57.9 percent of students and 58.8 percent of staff members – but just 40 percent of faculty members – saying they were either satisfied or very satisfied. Among students, 61.2 percent of women and 61 percent who  identified as White said they are satisfied or very satisfied, while 49.7 percent who identified as BIPOC answered the same way.

Perceptions of safety on campus vary significantly among demographic segments, with 53.1 percent of students saying they are never concerned for their physical safety, 43.3 percent saying they are sometimes concerned and 3.6 percent saying they are often concerned. The differences arise when responses are sorted by gender identity – 71.3 percent of transgender/non-binary students say they are sometimes concerned for their safety, compared to 26.4 percent of men and 44.6 percent of women.

Among Ashland residents – who make up 63 percent of the survey respondents – 77 percent overall and 63 percent who identify as BIPOC said they feel welcome.

The overall response rate for the survey was 26.23 percent – including 53.1 percent among staff members, 50 percent for faculty and 26 percent for students. SoundRocket indicated that the average nationwide response rate for this type of survey ranged from 15 to 30 percent.

SOU’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion already has begun addressing some of the areas in which the survey revealed differences for racial-, ethnic- and gender-specific demographic groups, including a sense of belonging to one or more campus communities, discriminatory experiences, feelings of safety and perceptions of fairness in compensation.

The EDI office is partnering with Human Resources to re-establish and expand faculty and staff gatherings that were previously known as BIPOC Luncheons, and also established three summer work groups from SOU’s Committee for Equity and Diversity to develop the “Inclusive Guide for Living and Working in the Rogue Valley” – an online handbook intended to ease newcomers’ transition into the region and assist in developing a sense of belonging and community.

Cooper held a series of meetings this summer with SOU’s academic division directors, and a plan is in the works to increase diversity in their program areas, beginning with diversity in their networks. The EDI office has also begun discussions with the offices of Outreach and Engagement, and Admissions, to help with tracking and maintaining relationships with participants from the university’s pipeline programs, with the goal of improving access to higher education among historically underrepresented students.

Developing the data is key and the Office for EDI is working on creating opportunities for those who are interested to give additional feedback on the findings. Look for additional information in the weeks to come.