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  • Alan Cohen, Staff Writer

2023 Campus Climate Survey finds high rates of discrimination despite low participation

Data about discriminatory comments. Graph from Climate Survey

In December 2023, Willamette published its Campus Climate Survey Report for the first time since 2019. This survey is conducted every four years to better understand the experiences of students, faculty, staff and administrators relating to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The findings show high rates of discrimination toward multiracial respondents, as well as on the basis of political belief, age and religion.

Carried out in February 2023, the survey asked respondents about their perceptions of Willamette’s climate, Willamette’s support for diversity and equity, and experiences with discrimination and harassment at Willamette. The survey was conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS), a third-party organization, and the report was constructed by the Assistant Provost for Institutional Equity and Community Engagement Emilio Solano and the Associate Provost for Institutional Research Kelley Strawn, along with other members of the EDI committee. 

In terms of results, the response rate of the survey was 24% of the 3,128 Willamette community members sent an invitation to respond — down from a 49% rate in 2019 — and thus potentially not fully representative of the entire campus population. Nonetheless, according to the report, “the statistics that we derive from the survey data are useful if utilized appropriately.” Respondents were students, faculty and staff from all of Willamette’s schools, including the Pacific Northwest College of Arts in Portland. 

Solano is in charge of the university’s EDI efforts and entered the role in 2022. He said the COVID-19 pandemic halted many of the university’s plans to implement changes in light of the 2019 report, and the context for both surveys is very different for the same reason. 

According to Solano, one of the key takeaways from the survey is that the average respondent reports a neutral-to-positive experience of Willamette’s campus climate, which he sees as “a very positive thing.” In addition, the index that measures satisfaction with the university’s EDI efforts and institutional priorities is 3.2 on a scale of 5. 

Graph of data from the Climate Survey

He added that despite the average experience being neutral-to-positive, some results may be cause for concern. For instance, 70% of respondents reported having heard insensitive or disparaging remarks about people with a particular political affiliation or view during their time at Willamette. The average percentage of people with this experience at other liberal arts universities is 64%, and the average across all participating institutions is 52%. 

Solano also said that the percentage of respondents who have reported hearing these remarks about a particular age or religious background is also significantly higher than at other institutions. Students rank first as the main source of these remarks, followed by the local community. 

Data prevalence of discrimination. Graph from Climate Survey

26% of the respondents reported having experienced discrimination or harassment during their time at Willamette, including at off-campus events affiliated with the university. According to the report, “The most common source of the reported discriminating or harassing remarks were other students (35%), followed by faculty and administration (22% and 21%, respectively), then staff (13%), and others in the community (10%).” 

The rate of multiracial people who reported experiencing discrimination or harassment is nearly 40%, which is overwhelmingly higher than among monoracial respondents. 

In July 2023, the university EDI committee received 40 hours of training from the USC Race and Equity Center, which focused on interpreting the report, communicating its findings and implementing changes based on the results. In addition, the EDI committee has created a climate response subcommittee that is already planning student listening sessions and focus groups largely centered on students of color, multiracial students, political views and religious groups. “We felt as a committee that these were four areas we wanted to dig further into,” Solano said. There is also an increasing effort to host events centered around EDI issues and events that generate community connection, especially with regard to hiring and retaining faculty members and staff, according to Solano. 

“I hope that different departments are looking at this survey; I hope that different schools are looking at this survey. I hope the students are reading this survey and they’re asking questions. The dialogue that will come from this is going to be really impactful,” Solano concluded.

College of Arts and Science (CAS) Representative to the EDI committee Aanya Friedman (‘24) worked with the committee to synthesize the data and help Solano and Strawn generate the final report. “A big part of it was making sure that the story that is conveyed is not misleading and makes the most sense in the context of the last school year,” Friedman said. 

Before serving on the committee, Friedman had worked on a project for Student Scholarship Recognition Day (SSRD) in which they examined past climate survey reports and changes in the questions asked. Friedman is also the founder and co-president of the Multiracial Collective, which is a student organization that seeks to “connect members with community resources, hold multicultural events, and host multicultural speakers,” according to the Student Engagement and Leadership webpage

They believe that some improvements to the report could have been made, especially regarding survey participation. Friedman’s suggestions included using class time to fill out the survey the same way the university does with course evaluations in order to increase the representativeness of the sample. They also recommended changing the name of the survey to make its mission clearer and more appealing to future respondents, as well as making the questions more comprehensible and less ambiguous.

Friedman highlighted similar takeaways to those mentioned by Solano, especially regarding high rates of discrimination among multiracial respondents. “It’s really important to cater to the needs of students who don’t fit into specific racial or ethnic boxes.”

They concluded that they hope to see positive change in light of the report and improvement of the university’s institutional efforts with regard to EDI issues. Both Friedman and Solano are hopeful that the new focus groups will provide important qualitative data and context to make future improvement of EDI policies more effective and impactful. 

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Mar 21

very well writing of the facts. Wish more was surveyed, including information about white students and how they feel. When I was waiting for my granddaughter, I heard some remarks as jokes but when I looked it was a group of ball players talking about another student height and concluded it was because he was shorter and still trying to be involved in the sport but I could see the hurt on his face, before I could get out of my car, the pack disappeared with the man following slower.

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