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Carleton responds to Campus Climate survey results

Carleton’s diversity is what makes the college so attractive, with an international student body from about 35 different countries.

Sue Rankin, a key member of Rankin Associates and an associate professor for the College of Student Affairs at Pennsylvania State University, questions this “paradigm of diversity,” and acknowledges that although the majority of students are satisfied with campus climate, she questions what different minorities are feeling, however small any particular minority may be.

Rankin, with the help of the Carleton DIG (Diversity Initiative Group), conducted the Campus Climate Survey to garner statistical results on the student, staff and faculty opinion on the college community.

Not only was the survey answered by about 1500 participants, but it also generated poignant qualitative information which can help better Carleton’s environment. As Rankin points out, it isn’t enough to “talk the talk,” we need to “walk the walk” as well. Furthermore, results of this survey have been posted on the web for the world to see. On this, Arnav Durani, who also attended Rankin’s question-and-answer session, said, “The transparency of the process is great but I feel like it needs to be publicized more.”

As stated in the report, students on campus reported various forms of subtle or overt harassment in the forms of classism, racism and gender/sexuality bias. To start off, 27 percent of students reported harassment based on their socio-economic backgrounds. The report compiled by Rankin includes a disturbing quote: “the rich kids hang out with the rich kids and the poor kids hang out with the poor ones.”

When it comes to racism, 59 percent of students of color experienced some form of it compared to 5 percent of white students. First-year students of color also reported feeling less confident about succeeding at college than other students did. Beyond the classroom, respondents of color experienced racism off campus as well.

Regarding items of gender and sexuality, students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) felt the atmosphere to be heterosexually biased and shared encounters with homophobia in and around the college community. However, nine transgender students took this survey and all identified themselves as transgender, which Rankin claims in rare and a good sign that shows “they feel safe on campus.”

Overall, the report summarizes that “most respondents who provided discouraging comments and had less confident feelings about the campus climate were from less privileged groups, particularly people of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Throughout the qualitative responses, it was evident that white, heterosexual, non-religiously affiliated individuals were more likely to describe the campus climate as welcoming and accepting, while non-majority community members reported experiencing a very different climate that was discriminatory and homogenous.”

Dean of Students Joe Baggot attended both the Q & A session sponsored by CSA, and the discussion at the CSA Senate meeting. He said, “In these settings students asked important questions of Professor Rankin and each other. And, although concrete action steps are premature, it is clear that students are reflecting on individual actions and institutional initiatives that might strengthen our community.”

Rankin’s approach has been very detailed and analytical one: a visionary process as seen today from the grass-root level. Rankin has essentially taken a “snapshot” of the current plight so that changes can be accommodated for even that small, unsatisfied minority at Carleton.

Will increasing campus diversity help matters? Petra Crosby is the Director of International Student Programs and personally knows every international student on campus. She says “As diversity has grown exponentially in the last decade, with it come great opportunities of sharing worldviews and experiences but also challenges like honest, often uncomfortable, dialog between students from varied national, ethnic, religious, racial, sexual, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. To simply increase the diverse student body at Carleton is not the answer; as the Climate Survey suggests we must engage in the work of creating safe and productive environments and venues where all students’ views are heard and legitimized.”

Change on paper never equates to the real thing. So, what next? CSA senator Pablo Kenney ’09 said, “Each student should strive to make sure that he or she makes that change within their circle of influence (which is larger than you may think).”

As Rankin ended her presentation, she left us with a thought- this isn’t the end- “it’s just the beginning.”

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