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Sec XI – Diversity and Climate

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Section XI. Diversity and Climate

We believe that the commitment to diversity is not simply an abstract matter for reflection. Understanding and developing respect for differences among people must develop from practical interaction and relationships. As such, we have been committed to welcoming and promoting diversity along the lines of race, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual difference, and the like among the people in our program — the faculty, the staff, the students. We not only link our words to our actions but, when the program fosters attention to issues of diversity, such discourse in part builds on recognized differences among us as a community.

Law, Societies and Justice Program

Conceptualizing Climate

Climate was the least analyzed category in the reports, yet it is the most frequently mentioned by students, faculty, and staff as a diversity concern, especially for retention and success. Many unit reports speak eloquently to mission statements and hopeful impressions of climate within departments. The vast majority of reports, however, included very little concrete information in detailing how a welcoming climate is created, evaluated, and interpreted by different members. Cress (2004) explains:

Climate was a specific diversity target area, but this category was frequently ignored in the reports. If addressed, climate was most often described within the context of the number of diverse faculty or students. Or, a generalized statement was offered such as “everyone is knowledgeable and incorporates issues of diversity into daily practice.” One hopes to accept this claim at face value, but how are these intentions realized? Is climate a matter of tolerating one another or are individuals thriving in their work and learning?

When reports did address climate, it was equated with the number of diverse faculty or students. In some cases, reports acknowledged nuisances of speech, behavior, and interpersonal interactions that affect department culture. Very few mentioned normative values, priorities, and expectations as aspects of climate. Least evident was any discussion of how climate affects recruitment, retention, scholarship, pedagogy, and learning on personal/professional and organizational levels (Cress, 2004).

Hurtado et al. attempt to clarify “intangible” aspects of campus climate by providing “a framework for understanding four dimensions of the campus climate and a conceptual handle for understanding elements of the environment that were once thought too complex to understand” (1998, 281). These dimensions include the institutional context (historical legacy of inclusion or exclusion), structural diversity and its impact of students, the psychological dimension of climate and its impact on students, and the behavioral impact of climate and its impact on students. Future departmental workshops and seminars might focus on this and similar research to help faculty, staff, and students understand the departmental climate and how to improve it.

The University has sponsored studies on climate. The Office of Educational Assessment (OEA), in the Office of Undergraduate Education, reports that it created two useful studies of climate. First, the UW Study of Undergraduate Learning project included “understanding and appreciating diversity” as one of the six learning areas. This is a four-year study that began in 1999 with 300 undergraduate participants and analysis of other areas along gender, racial/ethnic, and freshman/transfer entry lines. Most recently, motivated by the inclusion of I-200 on the ballot, a team of researchers at the UW collected data in 1999 on an ethnically diverse sample of UW students to explore the relationships among students’ perceptions of campus climate, and their academic achievement and commitment to higher education.* University Libraries created an organizational culture survey to gather staff input on diversity issues and aspirations.

One very promising program that attempts to address climate systemically is the Center for Institutional Change (CIC), a collaboration between the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences to increase the number of women in leadership positions in science departments. At the core of the project is the Department Cultural Change Program, which provides professional development for departmental leadership and grants to departments for comprehensive cultural change initiatives. In addition to the Department Cultural Change grants, the CIC has developed a Cross-Department Cultural Change Program (CDCCP), which is designed to help departments enrich communication, enhance collaboration, seek and utilize diversity more effectively, and improve faculty recruitment and retention. The CDCCP is further intended to encourage more effective peer mentoring and collegiality.

Examples of Good Practice

  • Establishing departmental community. The College of Education reports that it continues to address issues of diversity through faculty brown-bag seminars and special events, for example: brown-bag discussions of recruitment for diversity among recent faculty search chairs; brown-bag discussions of “teaching moments” involving diversity issues and how to use these productively in a classroom context; and meetings with students of color and international students. Similar activities exist in the Departments of Philosophy, Mathematics, and Speech and Hearing Sciences.
  • Establishing focused discussion on the meaning of diversity and climate. The Evans School of Public Affairs has established “Discussion on Diversity,” a series of small potlucks for students, faculty, and staff designed to facilitate discussions on diversity issues at the Evans School. In each of the first two years, over 100 people participated in groups meeting at one of the 10-12 potlucks held in homes. Each group is asked to address specific questions and to document their discussion, and the subsequent results are shared with the Evans School community. Similarly, the School of Nursing created forums that facilitate all school stakeholders to effectively address diversity issues. The Department of Economics also “seeks to model support and accountability in our relationships” and does so in part by conducting departmental workshops.
  • Developing a working statement on climate. The Staff Committee of the University Diversity Council has created a Values Statement on Working Climate, which is being disseminated across the University. The Department of Biology includes the historic Zoology Department collective values statement on diversity as part of its strategic plan, thus providing an operational context for ongoing assessment of climate and community.
  • Providing diversity training to improve climate. Continuing education sessions and staff retreats at Hall Health Primary Care Center explore the basis of misperceptions and conflicts based on race, gender, disability, class, sexual identity/orientation, age, ethnicity, health conditions, and indigenous status. The Residential Life Program in the Division of Student Affairs offers comprehensive diversity training to staff members and regular training opportunities for student leaders to explore diversity and multiculturalism.
  • Creating hospitable environments. Many departments have established “safe zones” that allow GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) students to have a safe space for interacting and studying. The Ethnic Cultural Center and Theatre provides a welcoming gathering place for students of all backgrounds. UW Libraries regularly mounts exhibits highlighting diverse cultures and achievements. Hall Health Primary Care Center conducts periodic reviews of program descriptions, signs, processes, procedures, and physical plant for cultural bias and barriers to access.
  • Addressing classroom climate. The Center for Instructional Development and Research (CIDR) works to support faculty interested in creating more inclusive courses and pedagogies. CIDR consults with individual faculty, provides assessment tools, and houses a strong resource library to support continued changes in teaching methods that improve classroom climate. The Evans School has conducted workshops to help teaching staff design and lead constructive discussions on diversity. The School has also added questions about classroom climate to course evaluation forms.

Challenges and Recommendations

  • Refining an understanding of what “climate” entails. University leaders must articulate how historical, structural, and behavioral dimensions of climate affect interactions and opportunities on campus and address the concerns of diverse faculty, staff, and students at every level of the University.
  • Developing open communication to produce concrete insights into climate issues. The need remains to develop feedback mechanisms at all administrative levels so that concerns about climate can be voiced, heard, and addressed.
  • Providing institutional assessment of campus climate for staff and faculty as well as students. An overall institutional assessment of climate would provide for insight into the many layers of climate issues that cross campuses, disciplines, schools, and positions of power, an assessment which might help to point the UW toward next steps in addressing diversity.
  • Developing operational measures and resources for department/unit, workplace and classroom climate. Units will be better able to assess and improve climate with specific examples of measures and resources made available to them through workshops, seminars, and other training opportunities.
  • Offering and encouraging diversity training to all administrators and staff. Training in the different dimensions of climate and their impact on diversity will improve the ability of all University staff to recognize and act on the concerns of faculty, staff, and students.
  • Encouraging inclusive and appropriate communications about diversity. As part of an overall University communication plan, a review of University and unit publications, informational materials, web sites, and messaging for inclusion of appropriate communication about diversity will provide clearer avenues for communication about diversity matters.

*Collection of hard copy reports analyzing student responses to SOUL survey questions are available at the UW Libraries