Climate Survey available at Kent State

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Stephanie Martoccia & Zac Ezzone

Kent State launched its first study in 18 years to assess the current attitudes of students, faculty and staff regarding the university’s climate.

Kent State has hired Rankin & Associates, a consulting company based out of Pennsylvania, to work with over 130 clients to conduct the survey and analyze the data.

Susan Rankin, a senior research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education and an associate professor of education in the College Student Affairs program at Pennsylvania State University, is also an employee of Rankin & Associates. She described climate as, “the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution.”

According to Kent State’s website, climate is shaped through personal experiences, perceptions and institutional efforts of students, faculty and staff.

The survey inquires about the level of comfort that students have in different situations. This includes both their feelings in the classroom and their feelings of being a part of the university overall.   

The survey also tries to gauge student and faculty perception of how multiple categories of diversity are treated at Kent State; this includes racial, sexual and religious diversity.

“I think climate and diversity go hand-in-hand. I wouldn’t separate them,” said Pablo Bueno Mendoza, assistant to the president of social equity at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Mendoza has been part of the administration during Rankin’s climate study at IUP in 2015 and the University of Missouri in 2012.   

Kathryn Wilson, an economics professor and co-chair of the steering committee overseeing the climate study survey, said there are three main goals the university is hoping to accomplish through the survey: Identify what the university is doing well and how it can build on those things, discover what the university isn’t doing as well and address those areas that need improvement through examining the survey results and making the necessary changes.

“The university has these different initiatives that it’s going to be doing and the climate study is meant to inform those groups as they go forward in implementing the strategic visioning,” Wilson said.

The survey being conducted in the midst of Kent State’s rebranding is no coincidence, according to Wilson. The survey is an integral part of President Beverly Warren’s broader vision for the future.

Mendoza, the IUP administrator, said studies like this one will answer a lot of questions that institutions have.

“What institutions do with the climate study when it’s finished is where you can tell the advocacy of the instrument ” Mendoza said. “That’s where sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

According to Shana Lee, director for special projects and initiatives within Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the climate study will take place from March 8 until April 5. The results will be reviewed and initiatives will be created during the summer so they can be implemented in the fall.

Mendoza was the director of the multicultural center at the University of Missouri when it conducted its most recent climate study in 2012. According to Mendoza, the results showed that prior to their first year of college, 85 percent of students had no experience interacting in a diverse environment.

“We needed, as an institution, to develop mechanisms to train people to have better cross-cultural communication,” Mendoza said. “We tried with our diversity peer educator program and programs through the chancellor’s diversity initiative.”

The climate study conducted at the University of Missouri also helped create initiatives such as the diversity train the trainers program and working in conjunction with other offices on campus to ensure that diverse students were supported.

“I believe that some of the issues that the University of Missouri dealt with this past November, where graduate students and African American students felt disenfranchised by the new administration,” Mendoza said, “is because the old administration actually listened to our recommendations, but the new administration, they did not seem to be familiar with the data from the campus climate survey. If they had been, maybe they would have had better engagement with the students this past fall instead of what happened.”

Mendoza left the University of Missouri three years ago to work at IUP, which is currently conducting a climate study of its own.

“The whole idea of the campus climate survey is to develop the baseline knowledge so we can actually develop a diversity action plan,” Mendoza said about IUP. “Our goal is to then develop goals to address the issues that come out of the survey and then over the next decade or two, do the survey every two to three years to develop a trend analysis of the advocacy of our diversity plans.”

Kent State is conducting its survey in a similar way to IUP in comparison to the last survey that was done at the university in 1998.

Wilson acknowledges that waiting so many years to do another survey isn’t helpful; therefore, the university plans on assessing the climate at Kent State through a similar survey on a recurring basis.

“The survey is not going to just be a one shot deal,” Wilson said. “The intent is every five years or so to do a broad climate study like this.”

Wilson says it will serve as a starting point in order to get a sense of where the university is at and what changes need to be made. After the university conducts its second survey, administration will be able to look at the results of the changes that were implemented and continue to come up with ideas to address different issues or concerns.

However, Wilson said in order for the university to really understand the different issues that need to be addressed at Kent State, there has to be a high enough response rate to ensure the information is accurate.

Wilson said the committee is hoping to get a 75 percent response rate, which she understands is really high, but said it would be incredibly beneficial in addressing areas that need to be improved.

“Each student’s experience really is different,” Wilson said, “and the same is true for faculty and staff, so getting to hear from all of the different individuals really is going to be what helps us get an overall picture. That is why we think everybody’s voice matters and why we want to hear everybody’s voice.”

According to Wilson, Rankin & Associates came to the university with a sense of the questions to ask. From there it was up to the committee to go through every single one to make sure the survey was Kent State-specific. The committee even focused on all of the little details, including making sure the questions are phrased in the most relevant way for the students, faculty and staff of the university.

“We got to draw on Rankin & Associates expertise and benchmark on other colleges that Rankin has worked with in the past, but it is also very much a Kent State-focused survey,” Wilson said.

The survey will be open for four weeks, with the last chance for students, faculty and staff to complete the survey to be the week after spring break. However, Wilson suggests people complete the survey sooner than later because there are chances to win thank-you gifts.

Wilson said after the first week there is going to be a drawing for a student to get a $250 gift card. Also, every week there will be a drawing of five students who will each get a $50 gift card.

While the idea of winning a gift card may be the incentive some people need to participate in the survey, Wilson said that wasn’t where the idea of the gift cards came from.

“It’s truly a thank you,” Wilson said, “we want people to take the survey because this is our institution and we want to make it a better place, but we also want to get a chance to thank people for the time they’ve taken.”

Take the climate survey before April 5 on the Kent State website at http://www.kent.edu/voices.

Stephanie Martoccia is a diversity reporter and Zac Ezzone is a recruiting and retention reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected]