Westminster’s first comprehensive campus climate survey of students, faculty, and staff will be administered Oct. 25–Nov. 15, 2021. It will gather information from the campus community to gauge how the campus climate supports (or hinders) diversity, equity, and inclusion. The survey usually takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Participation in the survey is voluntary, and participants do not have to answer any question—except the first positioning question (staff, faculty)—and can skip any other questions they consider to be uncomfortable. Participants’ responses are anonymous.
Preliminary data will be available in late spring and early summer. Results will be used to develop a better understanding of the extent to which the campus climate supports diversity and equity and will inform and improve Westminster’s diversity-related policies and practices, including those to prevent or respond to discrimination and harassment. Campus leadership is committed to the practice of data-informed decision-making to improve the campus climate at Westminster. Related efforts for consideration include conducting listening sessions and focus groups to add depth to the quantitative data.
Questions about the survey can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In reviewing efforts by other colleges and universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies, several best practices were identified. One was the need for external expertise in survey administration. The administration of a survey relating to a very sensitive subject like campus climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if led by an independent, outside agency. The survey will be conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS), an educational research entity with a focus on undergraduate liberal arts education. At least 10 of the consortium’s member colleges are considered peer institutions to Westminster.
Confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research, particularly as sensitive and personal topics are discussed. While the survey cannot guarantee complete confidentiality because of the nature of multiple demographic questions, the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS) incorporates multiple precautionary measures to enhance individual confidentiality and the de-identification of data. No data already protected through regulation or policy (e.g., Social Security number, campus identification number, medical information) is obtained through the survey. In the event of any publication or presentation resulting from the assessment, no personally identifiable information will be shared. Unless you choose to share your contact information, it will not be possible to identify any individual respondent from this survey.
Confidentiality will be maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses will be stripped when the survey is submitted). No guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the internet by any third parties; however, to avoid interception of data, the survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security.
In addition, neither HEDS nor Westminster will report any group data for groups of fewer than 5 individuals because those "small cell sizes" may be small enough to compromise confidentiality. Instead, groups will be combined or other measures will be taken to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable. Additionally, any comments submitted in response to the survey will be separated at the time of submission so they are not attributed to any individual demographic characteristics. Identifiable information submitted in qualitative comments will be redacted and the college will only receive these redacted comments.
Information in the introductory section of the survey will describe the manner in which confidentiality will be guaranteed, and additional communication to participants will provide expanded information on the nature of confidentiality, possible threats to confidentiality, and procedures developed to ensure de-identification of data.
Current events and incidents within the campus community prompt an immediate need to take a "pulse" of the campus climate—perceptions of and experiences with bias, hostilities, harassment, and the like—as differently experienced by staff and faculty. Employee feedback will inform decisions about where and how to direct resources for professional development, workplace support, etc.
This survey is comprehensive because it asks students (age 18 and above), staff, and faculty about their perceptions of institutional climate, diversity, equity, and inclusion support, and experiences with bias, discrimination, and harassment. This is a meaningful opportunity to gather the many voices of the campus community to identify points of success and improvement related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A culture analysis of an organization is incomplete without deliberate inquiry into the campus racial climate, which facilitates the opportunity for a more immediate and direct pulse of the environment and its impact on campus community members, especially those most vulnerable to its harmful effects.
Climate exists in micro-climates, so creating opportunities to maximize participation is important as well as maximizing opportunities to reach structurally minoritized groups. As such, random sampling may cause us to "miss" particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., African American faculty). Since one goal of the project is inclusiveness and allowing invisible "voices" to be heard, this sampling technique is not used. In addition, randomized stratified sampling is not used because we do not have population data on most identities. For example, Westminster collects population data on gender, race, and ethnicity, but not on disability status or sexual orientation. So, a sample approach could miss many groups. All Westminster students, faculty, and staff have the opportunity to participate in the survey.
It is important in campus climate research for survey participants to "see" themselves in response choices to prevent "othering" an individual or an individual's characteristics. Some researchers maintain that assigning someone to the status of "other" is a form of marginalization and should be minimized, particularly in campus climate research which has an intended purpose of inclusiveness. Along these lines, survey respondents will see a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. However, it is reasonably impossible to include every possible choice to every question. The goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose "other."
Climate is how you experience (or feel) the campus atmosphere (including the culture) at any given moment. Each member of the campus community (students, staff, and faculty) experiences the campus climate differently. These differences (or lived experiences) with the campus climate can be linked to disproportionate outcomes in student persistence, including learning, retention, and graduation rates, along with employee retention. Think of climate as the mood of the institution.
Culture is broadly defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that have been invested, discovered, or developed by a given group and governs how people behave in the organization (i.e., a college or university); it is the common or underlying shared beliefs, values, norms of behavior, thinking and emotional intelligence, routines, rituals, traditions, sense-making, perspectives, etc. Think of culture as the personality of the institution.
Student Gift Card Drawing
Students who participate in the survey will have the option to enter a drawing for a $50 gift card. You will receive a unique code after completing the survey. You will email the code, your name, and email address to Tamara Stevenson at email@example.com.
This code is in no way linked to your survey responses—your survey results will remain completely anonymous. However, be aware that by using this code, you are revealing to Tamara Stevenson that you participated in the survey. Tamara Stevenson will keep your participation confidential. You do not have to be present to receive the gift card if your unique code is drawn.
The drawing will take place on Nov. 17, 2021.
Previous Efforts to Gauge Campus Culture
Fall 2015: Westminster Culture Initiative
The Westminster Culture Initiative had the stated objective to “design and execute a comprehensive program to articulate and strengthen the Westminster culture—our values, how we want to work together, our identity as a College—in support of our strategic intent of providing a distinctive, high-value student-focused learning experience.” This project was paused to review and broaden participation in the planning process.
Spring 2016: Great Colleges to Work For Survey
The Great Colleges to Work For Program was implemented the following semester to provide senior-level administrators as well as academic leaders with insights regarding the quality of the workplace experience and the efficacy of the institution’s policies and benefits. Only staff and faculty were surveyed.