This month, Whitman College embarked on a landmark project to solicit feedback from all students, faculty and staff about what it's like to live and work on campus. The Campus Climate Survey, developed by the Whitman Inclusion Diversity Equity (WIDE) Committee in collaboration with Rankin & Associates, seeks to provide a fuller picture of Whitman as a working and learning environment by amassing information from as many respondents as possible about their experiences.
"It is crucial that every voice should be heard, because in the final analysis, this is about the climate that affects the entire community and what we aspire to be," said Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Kazi Joshua, who chairs the WIDE Committee with Associate Professor of Psychology Brooke Vick. "Deeper and broader participation will give us a more holistic view of this community."
So far, 37.8 percent of the Whitman campus has completed the survey since it went live two weeks ago. Among students, the participation rate is 32.8 percent; meanwhile, 49.1 percent of faculty have taken it, along with 48.8 percent of staff. Questions range from multi-choice format to requests for more in-depth written responses, and all answers are voluntary and may be skipped. The survey takes about 30 minutes from start to finish.
"We are excited about the enthusiasm we have seen from the community regarding this survey," Joshua said. "The levels of participation are high, and we are working to reach a 90 percent participation rate across all sectors—students, staff and faculty. This survey is independent. There will be no retaliation and we will use the findings to help us move the needle towards a more inclusive campus climate."
Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, the outside firm conducting the survey, defines campus climate as "the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution." Her research has found that positive perceptions of campus climate result in more successful educational outcomes and higher productivity for employees, among other markers of better overall wellbeing.
"I think nationally this fits into a lot of the tension we're seeing around issues of diversity and inclusion," said Vick, whose scholarly interests include the psychology of prejudice and social stigma.
"Doing the survey in such a broad way and trying to include everyone on campus is a really great way to get an in-depth look at what the current climate is... [now that] we have a new president, we have more new leadership coming in and we're getting ready to kick off diversity strategic planning for the next several years."
In email to the Whitman community, President Kathy Murray called the survey an important part of WIDE's efforts to "ensure that our campus is more inclusive and diverse and that all members of the community can thrive."
According to Vick, WIDE began talks with Rankin & Associates about designing a customized survey for Whitman in Spring 2015. Its content reflects information gathered during focus group meetings held on campus last October and finalized with the firm early this year. Since 2000, Rankin & Associates has been responsible for designing confidential surveys of this nature for dozens of colleges and universities. Their list of clients includes the University of California system as well as smaller liberal arts programs such as Reed College, Carleton College and Bucknell University.
"The data we are collecting will give us better information in which to ground our campus conversation about inclusion, diversity and equity," said Neal Christopherson, director of institutional research and a WIDE committee member. "It will help us identify any systemic problems that exist and will help point us towards potential solutions."
In addition to asking participants about any harassment or discrimination they may have faced or observed at Whitman as a result of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation, questions also focus in on issues like classroom dynamics, workplace satisfaction and hiring practices.
"The climate survey helps us gauge community engagement with these topics, and once we have the results we can see how we as a community can use that information to improve the campus," said Linnea Valdivia '17, an English major and presenter at this year's student-organized Power & Privilege Symposium.
Associate Director of Admission Shalini Uppu, who is also a member of WIDE, said a high participation rate is key to shaping the college's future.
"Whitman gets better every day at addressing issues of inclusion and diversity, and the survey is an important step in that direction. This community belongs to all of us, so we want to hear from everyone how we can make Whitman a safer, stronger and more equitable place."