Written by Mike Thee
January 13, 2015
Next week all SU faculty, staff and students will be asked to take what's being dubbed "The Big Important Survey."
The survey-officially identified as the Campus Climate Survey -will open on Jan. 20. (Watch your in-box for a link to the survey.)
Campus climate refers to the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution. The survey will assess SU's climate by asking questions on personal experiences, perceptions and institutional efforts.
"The climate study will provide valuable insight into the learning, working and living environment on campus...," Provost Isiaah Crawford and Executive Vice President Tim Leary wrote last week. "It is important that (faculty, staff and students) participate in the survey so that all voices can be heard in the continuing efforts to make our campus more inclusive and welcoming."
Part of a continuing effort
The survey is a key component of a nearly decade-long institutional effort to actively improve SU's campus climate.
A diversity task force launched in 2006 produced a report and recommendations in 2008.
More recently, the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence was formed in September 2013 to assess the current state of equity and inclusion on campus and recommending additional steps for the university to move forward in enhancing its core value of diversity. The task force will rely heavily on the results of the survey as it prepares new recommendations for the university.
Objective and confidential
To ensure the objectivity and confidentiality of responses, the university has turned to a third-party firm, Rankin & Associates, to administer the survey. A working group of more than 20 students, faculty and staff representing the campus met for several months with Rankin to review the survey and ensure its questions and response choices were relevant for the SU community. Monica Nixon (assistant vice president of Student Development), and Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs (professor of modern languages and cultures, and women and gender studies) and are co-chairs of the working group.
Rankin & Associates has a long track record of conducting such surveys, having worked with 120 universities, including a sister Jesuit school, Marquette University, which is also preparing to launch a survey of its own. "In choosing to work with Rankin and Associates, we've chosen to work with the best out there in terms of campus climate surveys," said Nixon.
"This lens that looks at us from a third-party perspective-we cannot get that on our own," says Gutiérrez y Muhs. "So it's really important to get that if we're going to be self-critical and constructive. It will allow us to look at all the positive things at Seattle University as well as those areas that need improvement."
Nixon says that "Rankin is not interested in simply measuring things. They want to work with campuses that will actually use the data."
SU is one such campus. "We're being proactive (in administering the survey)," says Gutiérrez y Muhs, who compares the university's effort to measure its climate and act on the findings to the Fitbit and other fitness monitoring devices.
In collaboration with the working group, Rankin will draft a report that the task force can then use to formulate recommendations on steps to take in the next five years. Nixon expects that those results and recommendations will be shared widely with the campus community in fall quarter.
The right time
The survey comes at a time when the university is working toward a culture of greater dialogue. "At the President's Welcome in September, Fr. Steve talked about the challenges of the past couple years and the importance to him of having all voices be a part of important campus conversations," says Nixon. "I think this climate survey provides an opportunity to meet that commitment and for all of us to participate."
Seattle University is hardly alone in responding to these sorts of challenges. Recent studies, including Harvard University's Voices of Destiny project, have yielded findings that college campuses have a lot of work to do in becoming more inclusive and welcoming environments, particularly for underrepresented students, faculty and staff.
"Every institution needs improvement," says Gutiérrez y Muhs, "and it's important for each of us as part of the university to say, 'I'm invested in this-I've put my grain of sand forth so that we can be the best place, where people are able to do their best and not be invisible-ized.' This is a way in which everyone in our community can participate in improving the climate for everybody else and making everybody feel comfortable.
"This is a research tool that is going to assist every one of our offices, every one of our schools to be our best and do our best."
Every effort is being made to ensure that every student, faculty and staff member can take the survey. Paper copies will be provided upon request, particularly for employees who do not have regular or any access to a computer, and arrangements are being made to give those employees the time they need to take the survey during paid hours.
Translation services are being made available in Spanish and Vietnamese. Gutiérrez y Muhs herself is offering to assist employees for whom Spanish is their first language.
Engaging all voices through the survey is essential, says Nixon. "Each of us as a participant in this community learns, receives and internalizes the campus climate," she says, "but each of us also has agency to create the climate."
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