The case for campus climate

By on October 24, 2017

Design by Christina Popik
Quinnipiac University conducted a series of focus groups last spring semester and used that data to put together a collective campus climate report describing themes in faculty and course diversity.

The campus climate report assesses various ways in which the university can become more inclusive for traditionally underrepresented groups of students.

The big organizers of the focus groups and the brains behind the idea for a campus climate report were Senior Vice President and Provost Mark Thompson, the IMaGinE Advisory board, the Academic deans and Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Diane Ariza.

The university hired external consultants who came the spring semester of 2017 and conducted 15 focus groups. The consultants met with 134 students, according to a PowerPoint put together by MRW Consulting Group International, LLC.

Some of the focus groups were smaller groups and some were larger, but these groups were representative of international students, Greek life, student government, African American community, Latino community, graduate students, Muslim students, Jewish students and the Gay Straight Alliance community.

The point of the focus groups was to get a sense of how these different groups think about their community.

The consultants collected a lot of data, put together a report and released their findings, and that was the information discussed at the recent town hall meeting.

“The findings were nothing completely new,” Ariza said. “Part of the newness were the themes around ‘how do students of color and underrepresented students and other students talk about this work?’ It seemed like there wasn’t a lot of collaboration when programs get planned around here, there is still a sense that underrepresented students feel they are the only ones coming to these programs when it really should be everyone coming.”

The campus climate reported that there were a variety of themes that were open for growth and opportunity. Those themes included: better leverage forms of engagement and student connections, strengthen diversity skills and knowledge through training, increase numbers of diverse faculty, staff and students and integrate diversity into the core curriculum.

Some of the questions that students were asked during these focus groups included, ‘Given the definitions of diversity, equity, inclusion, climate, and QU’s cultural engagement statement, how would you describe Quinnipiac’s campus climate?’ and ‘What do you feel Quinnipiac University has implemented (services, programs, policies, practices, activities, etc.) that has directly influenced the on-campus experience?’

Ali Munshi, a senior political science major, was one of the students interviewed during the focus groups. Munshi is a senior class representative of Student Government Association and is president of the Muslim Student Association.

He thinks that the most important takeaway from the campus climate is that it is much more than just a diversity initiative. Munshi said he thinks the school is moving in the right direction when they say they want to implement more opportunities to learn within the classroom and to learn outside of the classroom.

“This is about expanding our experiences and interactions with people that are different than us,” Munshi said.

Ariza said that when the consultants spoke to student groups that happen to be a majority of white students about campus climate in general, not diversity, but campus climate, they tended to raise issues about parking and food.

“When we talked about this campus climate to underrepresented students however, those weren’t critical issues,” Ariza said. “The critical issues for them were again, ‘how do we think programming, how do we collaborate together, how do we think about that in courses that are offered?’”

The reason Quinnipiac decided to do a campus climate study was because administration was hearing anecdotes around campus about some students feeling like they weren’t part of the community, according to Ariza.

Ariza explained that there is a survey that the university conducts every two years, but that is different than the campus climate.

Munshi said that one of the most challenging tasks on this campus is being able to balance that need for diversity but also keep everyone engaged.

He said that the key is to have events at times that work for most people, and topics that are relevant to the student experience on this campus. That, coupled with free food is always a great way to attract a diverse community of people, and more often than not, everyone learns. Everyone is able to take something away that they never knew before.

“As a Student Government member my job is to serve the students, and by serving the students, the goal is to give them an experience that not only aids them in the future, but allows them to enjoy their college experience,” Munshi said. “As a member of the Muslim Student Association it’s all about trying to break down the stereotypes of what people believe Islam is about. Again it’s about connecting with and educating the student body.”

In Ariza’s words, the university plans on introducing more courses that speak on the definition of diversity, catering more student programming towards minority groups on campus and bringing more attention to diversity on the North Haven campus. The last theme was something the graduate students brought up in their focus group.

“There was some concern from the graduate students on the North Haven campus that the attention to diversity was not as focused as it was on Mount Carmel campus,” Ariza said. “The Schools of Medicine and Law on that campus have diversity committees, but there didn’t seem to be any attention toward it or sustainability. We want someone there to be more representative of that voice.”

The challenge now is to make the training intentional, according to Ariza. She sent out a robust training schedule on how to think about the transgender community, how to think about those students who may be undocumented, how to bring those students into the fold of the classroom so that when a professor is opening up to teach, what might they need to be sensitive to?

She said the training schedule also mentioned how to think about a teaching style for all learners and how to be more mindful of the classroom?

“We are working on collaboration,” Ariza said. “We have the multicultural suite that opened up last year, how can we be more intentional about collaboration across all student organizations across campus?”

Ariza said that right now, they are working on incorporating more diversity classes, not just in general education, but also in major and minor courses.

“You need to have your eye on the prize,” Ariza said. “It’s about checking in to see what we said we were going to do, ‘have we been dutiful in that?’ I think it’s to hold ourselves accountable. You need metrics, you need a way to say, ‘how do we feel more inclusive, how do we feel more part of the community?’”

Munshi agrees that the Quinnipiac community needs to grow in thinking and experiences.

“If the administration starts to give us more opportunity to become self-aware and become more educated then we are definitely reflecting the wants and need of the QU community,” Munshi said.

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About Hannah Feakes

News Editor
Journalism Major
Twitter: @h_feakes47
Class of 2019