Survey shows campus diversity climate viewed as positive overall

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Town hall meetings are planned to discuss survey results.

KALAMAZOO—An overwhelming majority of the Western Michigan University campus community views diversity and inclusion as values that are respected and valued at WMU, and a smaller but still sizeable majority view University leaders as supportive of those values.

In addition to overall positive perceptions, the study uncovered areas of concern and a reluctance among some employees and students to report inequitable treatment when it does occur.

Those are the top line results of an extensive study of WMU's diversity climate conducted during 2012-13 by a campus committee and Dr. Roger Worthington, a veteran researcher and consultant from the University of Missouri who has studied diversity climates at schools across the nation. A series of town hall meetings on campus set for the first week of October will bring Worthington back to WMU to present his findings to members of the campus community and help begin the process of implementing the study's recommendations. All sessions will be held in the Bernhard Center.

Town hall meeting dates and times

  • 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, in Room 157
  • 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, in the East Ballroom
  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, in Rooms 105-107

The WMU study, which was the product of a multiyear effort, employed both a survey instrument and focus groups. It was commissioned by the University to take an in-depth look at diversity and inclusion issues on campus and identify those areas where improvement is needed. Campus officials say they're pleased at the overall views detailed in study results, and gratified that the work uncovered specific issues that need to be addressed and corrected.

"We asked Dr. Worthington to really dive deeply into the campus culture and uncover those areas in which we can and should make improvements to ensure that ours is a welcoming and inclusive environment in which every individual feels valued and included," says WMU President John M. Dunn.

About the survey

Nearly 92 percent of the 5,615 survey participants positively endorsed the statement that "overall, diversity and inclusion are respected and appreciated at WMU." More than 80 percent agreed that campus leadership supports diversity and inclusion. 

The response rate to the survey invitation was nearly 20 percent, double the rate typical for such surveys. The respondents included 4,072 students, 493 faculty members, 924 staff members and 126 administrators. In addition to the survey participants, 81 people took part in campus focus groups.

Despite the positive results in defining the general or overall climate on campus, the research uncovered areas that need attention to make the University a place that is not simply focused on compliance with nondiscrimination guidelines, but one that is truly multicultural. The most serious of the issues uncovered related to experiencing and reporting unfair and inequitable treatment. The study found a reluctance to report such treatment and dissatisfaction with the way incidents reported were handled.

Of the people who participated in the survey, 6.5 percent reported that sometime during their time at WMU, they had experienced unfair or inequitable treatment. Of those individuals, fewer than a third made an official report of that treatment, and only 20 percent of those who did report such problems said they thought their report was handled with fairness.

"As we look at those percentages and the individual feelings of disappointment they represent, we have a clear imperative to move forward and reach out to our campus community in ways that reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our determination to hear and treat each person with fairness and respect," says Dunn.

Other major findings

Other major findings are among those to be presented in town hall meetings.

  • Personal experiences of discrimination were a powerful predictor of the respondents' overall perception of campus climate.
  • Students were significantly more positive about the campus climate than the faculty, staff and administrators.
  • Faculty consistently rated the diversity climate at WMU lower than did students, staff and administrators.
  • There was a significant difference between the overall campus climate views of all respondents versus those who have disabilities.
  • There were significant differences on the diversity satisfaction level of white-only respondents as opposed to those of various other racial, ethnic and identity groups.
  • Students consistently rated the climate of the surrounding Kalamazoo community as lower than the assessment of the community's climate by faculty and staff. The perceptions of both groups reflected the respondents' views on the overall safety of the community.
  • Some broad issues of the general campus climate that are not related to diversity and inclusion undermine morale among faculty and staff and contribute to problems in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Recommendations

A major recommendation outlined in the study's executive summary is that the campus should reaffirm and reinvigorate its Diversity and Multiculturalism Action Plan—known as DMAP—that was developed and adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2006 and reaffirmed by Dunn when he took office in 2007. Specific actions outlined in the DMAP—both those that have been achieved and those that are still in progress—need to be identified. Appropriate updates and revisions should be made and immediate short-term and long-term actions to address important findings of the Campus Climate Study should be taken, particularly those that will address the fears of reporting inequity uncovered in the study.

Additional survey results and recommendations can be found in the Campus Climate Study Executive Summary.