By, Kyla Guilfoil & Karen Flores, Asst. News Editor & Staff Writer
The first college-wide campus climate survey was presented by the Office of Mission and the Diversity Council at a town hall meeting wherein feelings of inequity and exclusion were particularly reported by people of color, LGBTQ+ identifying individuals and commuter students.
The town hall took place on Wednesday, Oct. 27 and was based on qualitative and quantitative data compiled by the Diversity Council, under the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). While the DEI office has conducted campus climate surveys before, this was the first to include all college students and employees, and to be presented in a public forum.
Alixandria James, junior public health major, and Rani Roy, assistant professor of public health, presented the data that was collected and analyzed from the campus climate survey.
The quantitative data measured demographics, and was given through 43 multiple choice questions on the survey. From this data, it was reported that the responses were made up of 12 percent undergraduate students, 13 percent graduate students, 55 percent faculty and 53 percent staff/administration. Additionally, James noted there was a higher response rate among people of color.
The survey reported that 71 percent of individuals were satisfied with the college. Within that, there were lower satisfaction rates reported from people of color, women, non-binary or transgender individuals and disabled students.
Turning towards the qualitative data, James and Roy presented the questions which made respondents answered, which included inquiries about the college’s sense of community; courses, student-led organizations, departments and/ or offices that improved or diminished experiences regarding inclusivity and diversity; and effects that lead students to either report or not report instances of harassment or discrimination.
Roy explained the different forms of harassment and discrimination, which includes but is not limited to racial/ethnic profiling, being intimidated/ bullied, being stared at, receiving derogatory remarks, being deliberately ignored, isolated, left out or excluded.
“I think this one’s interesting because we sometimes think of discrimination and harassment as very active things, but exclusion itself is considered a form of discrimination and harassment,” Roy said at the presentation.
James and Roy then presented four hypotheses that were developed through a socio-ecological outcomes model of student perception. Within these, there were two positive and two negative hypotheses, the first being positive contributors of Manhattan College Lasallian mission and commitment to diversity. For this hypothesis, there were negative results overall, but there were a significant number of individuals who reported a student-led organization, department or office that improved their experience.
The second positive hypothesis was that academic initiatives and student interactions improved experiences at MC. The results here were an overall positive response to academic initiatives, but an overall negative response to student interactions. This is largely due to micro-aggressions that occur within the college.
The first of the negative hypotheses was that spatial and symbolic components of the physical campus negatively affected experiences at the college. Students of color reported that they do not feel that support, equity and inclusion that is shown through images on campus. Further, individuals reported that they do not feel the campus is conducive for those with disabilities. The results also found that discrepancies in spatial and resource accessibility exacerbate the divide between commuter students and resident students.
Finally, a negative hypothesis was rooted in the organization of on-campus extracurricular events and how that affects individuals. The results demonstrated that there was an overall positive effect made by the organization of on-campus events, with groups such as the LWGRC and BSU offering positive experiences for individuals, but there is still a need for more accessible campus events, particularly for commuter students.
Overall, the campus climate survey found that US persons of color, LGBTQ+, non-binary and transgender people, people with disabilities, liberal individuals and cisgender women felt less supported than their counterparts.
To address this, the Diversity Council proposed programs and groups to advocate for these individuals. One focus was the LGBTQ+ community at MC, with a new task force being established by the DEI office and led by Rocco Marinaccio, Ph.D., English professor and faculty advisor of Rainbow Jaspers, and Tiffany French, dean of engineering. Additionally, the Diversity Council will make an option on JasperConnect and Gmail available to manhattan.edu emails to add in pronouns.
To better represent commuter students, who now make up at least 50 percent of the college’s student population, the Diversity Council hopes to obtain at least one space that can be dedicated to commuter students on campus. At the town hall, a representative added that a proposal for a Rent-A- Room program is being developed by the Diversity Council, wherein commuter students could rent rooms on campus during storms, busy academic periods or just to spend time with other resident students. The Council hopes this will allow commuter students to have more accessibility on campus.
According to Sheetal Kale, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the DEI office is also looking into giving commuter students more accessible class schedules and pushing for events and extracurriculars on campus to be held earlier in the day to account for commuter students’ transportation needs. The work for commuter students will be under the leadership of the Council’s newly formed retention committee.
To respond to feelings of inequity and exclusion regarding campus symbols and imagery, the Diversity Council is planning a mural that would celebrate the college’s community of color. The mural was first pitched to President O’Donnell by the Black Student Union, and has gained the support of the DEI office to bring it to life. Kale shared that the mural will be designed by Tigay Muhammed, and the DEI office hopes to fundraise in the coming weeks so that the mural could be finished and on campus by the end of this academic year.
To respond to the instances of bias education and response as well as microaggressions, the Diversity Council is planning to jumpstart a new method of communication through the creation of a bias education response form. This form will allow for people to complain either anonymously or non anonymously about the instances of bias and micro-aggressions they have experienced.
Kale states that oftentimes people feel discouraged by the current process of reporting these events as they do not have the option of anonymity and does require formal investigation. While the previous process will still be available, the bias education response will allow for there to be an informal way to educate, change the culture and create a social justice approach in regards to bias without the investigations and disciplinary aspects.
Kale explained to The Quadrangle that last year the Diversity Council really had to focus on recommendations and developing their data, as the group was only formed last fall. This year, however, the implementation of actual programs and initiatives is an important priority for the DEI office.
“This year is all about the implementation,” Kale said. “So this year on the Diversity Council we have a different structure. So, the way I thought about the ongoing structure of our Diversity Council is to focus on a priority for one year, get recommendations, and then implementation the following year, along with a new group that’s become a priority. So what I’m trying to do for this year is take all of the working group recommendations and have a plan for implementation, and have a new working group called the Anti-Racist Task Force. And they would be responsible for implementing the ideas put forth by all of the working groups from last year.”
This year, based on the results of the campus climate survey, Kale explained that the three working groups to gain recommendations are going to be the LGBTQ+ Task Force, a group dedicated to continuous assessment of DEI metrics and a group specifically devoted to the college’s status as a Hispanic serving institution. Kale said that in order to be able to honestly and transparently talk about equity and inclusion, the ideas had to come from the most impacted and marginalized members of the community. The three groups were formulated to tailor to these marginalized and impacted groups, and have representatives from the student body, staff, faculty and administration.
The LGBTQ+ Task Force will focus on the group’s representation and inclusion and is currently being formed under Marinaccio and French’s leadership. The group focused on continuous assessment of DEI metrics will be regularly reporting and assessing data such as was included in the campus climate survey. Finally, the third of these groups will work to make sure that the college is truly serving its hispanic population, rather than just enrolling hispanic individuals.
Kale told The Quadrangle that providing the community with productive information is a main priority. She shared that the Rent-A-Room proposal, the mural and the discrimination and harassment form were three tangible projects that she was excited to be offering the community.
“I hate the thought of being performative, and not actually doing something, so I really wanted tangible measures, and initiatives to talk about,” Kale said in an interview. “I really wanted to focus on tangible stuff, not just more committees, and more recommendations. I know people get tired of hearing about that.”
Kale told The Quadrangle that having a public forum to discuss the results of the campus climate survey was a primary concern.
“This is really something I wanted to do and in the interest of transparency, we wanted to share data and make it clear where our strengths are, but also obviously where we had opportunities for much needed growth and improvement,” Kale said. “We do have problems, however I am feeling positive about our ability to address them, if not solve them. For the first time, we actually have a plan for implementation.”
James added to this sentiment, and told The Quadrangle, “No matter the institution, All colleges have their problems, but what makes a good institution great, is how they work on improving them.”