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Report on Campus Climate Survey

Dear all, 

I am writing to report briefly on the Rankin & Associates survey, which some of you completed last April/May as part of getting a baseline of where campus climate was at that time in terms of inclusion and sense of belonging. The survey was sent to all students, faculty, administrators, and staff and was commissioned by the Engaged Pluralism Initiative (EPI) so that we could measure the success of future efforts.

I am thankful to those of you who completed the survey, and it has identified several areas of campus life that deserve more attention. Nevertheless, despite best efforts to encourage participation, the survey was completed by only 33 percent of everyone surveyed. Some groups were significantly over-represented and others were under-represented; the reported percentages therefore may not accurately represent the views of the full community.

Even though the results may not represent our campus community fully, the voices reflected in the survey are important. The Climate Assessment Working Group of the EPI recommends that we consult with the community to develop priorities around survey results, and also due to the low response rates create more opportunities with campus partners to broaden the scope of our understanding. I remain committed to using these results to design community-building efforts that promote dialogue, trust, and best practices so that everyone in this community may feel they belong and can flourish on this campus.

A number of noteworthy points were raised in the survey. The survey found that while most student respondents feel valued by faculty and in the classroom, levels of comfort varied by groups. For instance, lower levels of comfort were reported by student respondents who are transgender, non-binary, and non-cis; students of color; students with disabilities; students with lower income; and first-generation students.

Overall, about one third of student respondents reported experiencing instances where they felt that they did not belong or were excluded, and these instances typically happened outside the classroom. The most commonly reported perceived bases for these experiences were: race/ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, socioeconomic status, or religious/spiritual views. The most common types of offensive or exclusionary conduct reported was being silenced and being ignored or left out.

Faculty, administrators, and staff respondents also reported high levels of feeling valued for their work; however, many also reported instances where they experienced feeling they did not belong or were excluded. For faculty respondents, the most commonly reported bases for these experiences were: gender/gender identity, political views, age, philosophical views, and length of service at Vassar. For administrator and staff respondents, the most commonly reported bases for these experiences were: their position, length of service at Vassar, gender/gender identity, age, and educational credentials. 

Student respondents who had these experiences often considered leaving Vassar. That broke my heart to read, honestly. Later in the survey, however, only 2.5 percent of student respondents reported that they thought they would leave Vassar before graduation; 96 percent of student respondents think they will graduate from Vassar. The survey asked: “What did you do to cope with the situation of feeling excluded?” The vast majority responded that they told a friend, avoided the person/venue, did nothing, or told a family member; a minority used the campus resources available or confronted the person in the moment or later. Moreover, many respondents did not think our campus climate encourages free and open discussion of difficult topics. This information is a call to all of us to work harder at fostering a campus where we encourage dialogue and provide the needed resources to fully report and resolve exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, or hostile actions.

Since the survey last spring, we have undertaken much work to address what I have understood as challenges in our climate. We have added substantial staffing to: residential life, the Office for Accessibility and Educational Opportunity, a Director of the Transitions program, Religious and Spiritual Life, the Career Development Office, Community Engaged Learning, and hired new directors of ALANA, the LGBTQ/Women’s Center, and Health Promotion and Education. We created an Associate Dean of Student Growth and Engagement and a Senior Associate Dean for Professional Development.  We have also increased resources at Metcalf and Counseling including a more generous mental health fund and are actively looking for state-of-the-art models to address mental health and wellness on campus. We have also invested in common spaces: for international students, a Muslim prayer space, and we are actively planning to make the Pratt House a community space with religious, spiritual, and contemplative practice to better create a welcoming, inclusive place located centrally on campus. For administrators and faculty who take on supervisory roles, we are beginning to invest in leadership development programming and are researching for all employees continuing education on bias awareness. EPI also continues to explore techniques, practices, and structures that promote greater senses of inclusion and shared governance. And I hope we will all continue to explore avenues to increase our knowledge about the conditions that enable members of our community, and our community as a whole, to thrive.

It is a time of great creativity and growth as we commit to improving engaged pluralism on this campus. None of this is simple, but I have confidence in our community that we will learn together, take care of each other, and collectively create a campus that is inclusive, life-giving, and home to the very best education possible for preparing young adults to contribute positively to our diverse and interconnected world.

If you have more questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me at EBradley@Vassar.edu. The report is available from the Office of Institutional Research, directed by Bini Tesfamariam at BTesfamariam@vassar.edu