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Editorial: Campus climate survey results must be followed by community engagement

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Illustration by Ananya Gambhiraopet

The environment in which people live and work can be one of the most critical factors in determining both success and fulfillment. Who wants to work, study or live in a place where they do not feel comfortable? To gauge the comfort of students, staff and faculty, Ithaca College released a campus climate survey this fall after the last survey was done in 2016. The willingness to engage in conversations regarding campus climate is a good first step on behalf of the college, but it must be followed by engagement from all members of the campus community. 

The results of the campus climate survey were released April 16, followed by presentations of findings April 25. Results revealed several opportunities for improvement revolving student life, including student belonging, exclusionary conduct and increased discomfort for those with marginalized identities. Specifically, undergraduate students with multiple disabilities, first-generation students, trans-spectrum and multi-racial students felt a lower sense of belonging. Undergraduate students who identified as people of color, women, queer-spectrum students and having multiple disabilities were also more likely to leave the college. Identifying these equity gaps is essential to creating a more inclusive campus community. 

However, the respondent rate of the campus climate survey indicates a deeper disconnect between the student body and administration. The overall response rate of the survey was 32% of the total campus population, compared to 46% in 2016. Furthermore, 53% of faculty completed the survey, while just 27% of undergraduate students filled it out. There was also a minimal number of students present at the noon-hour presentation of the results held April 25

This lack of student engagement could be attributed to many factors, including a lack of awareness of the survey, a feeling of helplessness when it comes to administration making changes or a lack of trust in the institution. It is up to students to actively engage with the campus by filling out surveys and sharing their opinions during discussions with administration. However, trust cannot be built overnight, especially given the amount of turnover the college has faced in the past few years. To cultivate a sense of connection between administration and students, the college must continue to communicate transparently and create spaces where students feel safe sharing their opinions. 

When breaking down respondent information further, it becomes evident that a disproportionately low number of people of color completed the survey, with only 3% of respondents identifying as Black and 4% identifying as Latine, while 5% of the total campus population identify as Black and 9% identify as Latine. At a predominately white institution, it is understandable why students of color may feel less trusting in administration, especially given the results of the survey that indicate inequities between white people and people of color on campus. Again, trust must be built, not through words, but through continuous action and commitment to inclusion.

The campus climate survey is an essential component to creating a more inclusive, welcoming campus community for all. However, it is the action that follows that truly matters. Students, faculty, staff and administration must collectively engage with one another to cultivate a stronger sense of connection and create change. Administration specifically must work to engage with students with marginalized identities, increasing support, trust and most importantly, belonging.

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