Whitman completes inaugural survey to study campus racial climate

Abby Malzewski, Staff Reporter

A campus climate study concluded on Tuesday, April 20 asked students about their experiences with the racial environment on Whitman campus in an effort to improve school-wide diversity and inclusion. 

Questions in the 15-minute web survey ranged from topics about feelings of safety on campus to the school’s handling of racist incidents and how the pandemic changed campus culture. The survey measured personal feelings of belonging and the existence of multi-racial interactions and teachings on campus.

This is Whitman’s first year completing this survey administered by the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC). Whitman is a member of the newly formed Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) made up of 53 collegiate institutions. LACRELA officially began in January 2021, and all members of the LACRELA participate in the NACCC, which was developed by the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California.

Dean of Students Kazi Joshua shared why distributing this survey on campus is important for developing a safe, diverse community.

“The campus climate survey seeks to determine the experiences of students on campus within a diverse environment,” Joshua said. “This is part of advancing our strategic goal of building a diverse and inclusive environment. As part of working towards that goal, we seek to make the necessary changes that might make the community more inclusive.”

Whitman conducted its first campus-wide climate survey in 2016. Results showed that 85% of respondents were comfortable within their classroom climate, but 20% of respondents personally experienced exclusionary conduct within the last year at Whitman. 

Monica Chapman, Executive Assistant for Diversity and Inclusion, manages the relationship between LACRELA and Whitman. Chapman explained how this new survey is different from the campus climate survey conducted in 2016.

“The 2016 climate survey was done through the hiring of a consultant by the college,” Chapman said. “It also did not allow for a comparison to other colleges, like the NACCC survey will.”

A key difference between the two surveys is the timeframe of response collection. For this current study, students are being surveyed this year, staff next year and faculty the year after that, and then students again in 2023-24. The 2016 survey involved responses from students, staff and faculty all within the single testing period over one academic year.

Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson is administering the survey and is the lead on data analysis and reporting. Christopherson shared that he is also working with the diversity and equity staff on campus to conduct this survey. Christopherson discussed the benefits of taking part in this study as a member of the LACRELA.

“The advantage of doing the survey as part of a consortium is that we’ll be able to compare Whitman’s results to the results from other schools,” Christopherson said. 

A section of questions within the study is dedicated to understanding the mental health of respondents and the social disconnection due to the coronavirus pandemic. Christopherson is unsure how the pandemic will impact student responses about experiences on campus.

“It’s not clear how the restrictions required by the pandemic will affect the overall picture of campus climate that we’ll get from the survey,” Christopherson said. “The timing is obviously not ideal, but because we’re doing this survey as part of a consortium, we don’t necessarily have control over the timing of when the survey is administered.”  

Survey results will be used to identify key areas, such as the employment of more faculty of color, where energy and resources can be focused to improve diversity in the future. Joshua explained why student responses will be so beneficial in Whitman’s aim for a more inclusive campus.

“We seek to create an environment where everyone belongs and thrives,” Joshua said. “To the extent to which we learn that that is not the case, we will want to remove such barriers to inclusion. They will be used to assess what we are doing well and what we are not doing well.”