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February 5, 2015

Admin. discuss campus climate assessments

Students and administrators discussed their concerns about the implementation of the upcoming campus climate surveys at a town hall hosted by Student Government (SG) on Tuesday evening. The event was held to gauge student interest and to allow students to give suggestions about what the surveys should include.

The two surveys, part of current SG President Tyler Kissinger’s campaign platform, are the result of conversations between SG and President Robert Zimmer last April, according to Kissinger. After several racial and sexual assault–related incidents where students challenged the University’s handling of these situations last quarter, Zimmer and Provost Eric Isaacs announced the surveys as part of a larger administrative action to address diversity and inclusion issues on campus, including the creation of a diversity advisory council.

Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen spent the majority of the time discussing the sexual assault survey, which will be the first survey released. She said that the University’s administration, faculty, and students are currently working with Stanford University, Rice University, and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) to create the surveys, insisting that both professional guidance and faculty and student involvement are key in generating the clearest responses. The surveys’ format, methodology, and length are not yet known.

“These are surveys that are done in a very scholarly fashion…You probably know from your experience that this is a place that prides itself on critical inquiry and not just taking things at face value,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said that while the surveys will not be mandatory, the University would like to see at least a 35 percent response rate from the student population. She also stressed the importance of anonymity and confidentiality among University of Chicago students when the surveys are administered.

Following Rasmussen’s comments, SG led an open forum in which both its leaders and other students voiced their concerns about the plans for the surveys.

SG Vice President of Administration Arlin Hill discussed the timing of the surveys in relation to recent events on campus and the need for this kind of action in the past.

“I can say personally that there are individuals who are involved in this process who have wanted to see more action [from the University] since my freshman year,” Hill said.

Fourth-year Cameron Okeke was concerned about the University’s decision to collaborate with other universities to create the surveys: “It’s very interesting how higher education only moves when other people move… For one, UChicago is not like the other schools. We are a very specific place with a very specific population.”

In terms of the methodology of the survey, third-year Alex Jung, undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees, worried that students would find the exact reason for answering questions about their comfort at the University unclear.

“They should make explicit what they’re going to do with this survey. That is, people should know what the premise is…. That way we can ensure that the University follows up on its promises,” she said.

Rasmussen anticipates that the sexual assault survey will be available for students to take by April 2015, and the second by the end of 2015.

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