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Susan Rankin to conduct Campus Climate Survey

<haps what makes an event significant is more about what does not happen than what does. In the case of the “Campus Climate Survey” informational session on Monday, the initial awkwardness was a result of who did not attend: practically anyone. When even the crickets were not around to break the initial silence (in their defense, they might have all frozen to death), only this writer, his roommate, and six of the panel members stayed for the entire meeting.

According to Sue Rankin, who President Oden has hired to put together a campus-wide student survey, this low of a turnout was no surprise. “You know, the smallest amount of people who go to these things are students. They are the hardest sell, but also the most important one.” What is “this thing” and specifically what will the survey try to accomplish? The term “Campus Climate” does not, in fact, refer to the soul-crushing Minnesota weather, but to “how various individuals experience and perceive Carleton” Rankin says.

Rankin, student panelists, and the Carleton administration will spend the rest of winter term constructing a survey to assess how ethnic and racial diversity, in addition to gender and sexuality issues, contribute to the diverse experiences of Carleton students. This meeting was the first step in deciding what that survey will look like when it reaches students this spring. Rankin will then present the results of the survey and her proposals for change at Carleton, next fall.

While the average Carl might have viewed Oden’s e-mail about the meeting as just another of many diversity-geared-gatherings at Carleton, Rankin believes they were a bit rash in clicking that Zimbra trashcan icon. “I am not part of Carleton’s administration, I’m not on the faculty, I have no stake in whether the information we gather helps or hurts the college’s image.” Rankin has been a professor at Penn State for over almost twenty years, and in addition to coaching the girls’ softball team, she specializes in strategies to improve the “campus climate” for underrepresented student groups. Not only has she led many diversity oriented classes at Penn State, but has also conducted surveys at schools ranging from the University of Arizona to Saint Cloud University in Minnesota.

Some (of the three) students in the audience, however, were not so sure that Rankin’s past experience would translate into a change in the Carleton community. Sam Finn, class of ’10 said “Many people consider ‘diversity promotion initiatives’ a waste of time and they are often justified in saying so. What are you going to do that people haven’t already tried?” Rankin responded by listing some concrete ideas she had in mind. She suggested a freshman diversity class, divided evenly between white and minority students, which would act as a “safe atmosphere for people to express how they feel about these very personal issues without the fear of appearing insensitive.”

This was only one of many possibilities Rankin presented at the meeting. She also suggested encouraging professors to incorporate more diversity issues in their curriculum. While she admitted that a Calc 3 class may not be the proper arena for discussing race or gender, she intends to look into how effectively other fields, such as social sciences and the humanities, deal with these issues.
Whether students have faith in what this survey might accomplish or not, many agree that diversity at Carleton is a problem. One sophomore girl, who preferred to be quoted anonymously, said, “I just feel weird about how infrequently it is that I meet black students in social situations.” She then expressed the disconnect she feels as a white student not only from the African American community, but from international students as well as other minority groups on campus. Recent controversial and emotionally-charged discussions on campus, such as the outrage at last year’s Lenny Dee “Hurricane Katrina” skit, gives a pretty clear signal to Sue Rankin that she has her work cut out for her.
Although students may feel pessimistic about what she can do, Rankin is the first to say that she will not be able to accomplish anything on her own. “In order for us to make any positive changes at Carleton, we need to hear from the student, first and foremost. That’s why it’s so important that you guys get out there and take this survey in the spring. We just won’t get anywhere without you.”

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