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January 12, 2016

Forum discusses upcoming campus climate survey

A forum last Thursday discussed the content of the second campus climate survey, which is set to launch this spring. This campus climate survey will focus on race and diversity at the University of Chicago. A number of faculty, staff, and students attended this forum to voice their opinions about diversity and inclusion.

Two campus climate surveys were announced following a 2014 petition, sparked by the University’s lack of response to racist Halloween costumes. The petition, created by Jaime Sanchez (A.B. ’15) and fourth-year Vincente Perez, called on the University to end systematic racial and ethnic discrimination on campus. It gathered roughly 2,500 signatures and included a campus climate survey among its list of demands. The first campus climate survey addressed issues of sexual misconduct; the survey was launched and the results were released in the spring of 2015.

This forum was the first of three. The second will take place on January 12 in the lobby of the School of Social Services at 4:30 p.m. and the third will take place on January 14 at the Cloister Club in Ida Noyes at 10:00 a.m.

At the beginning of the forum, moderators Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs Karlene Burrell-McRae, Associate Provost and Chief of Staff Matthew Christian, and Special Projects Coordinator in the Office of the Provost Somaiyya Ahmad spoke briefly about the purpose of the meeting, which was to gather as many opinions as possible for the survey. The forum was then opened to the audience.

Second-year Shae Omonijo, Co-President of the African & Caribbean Students Association, called for survey questions that would voice the opinions of students of color who struggle to find resources or feel those resources do not make a substantial impact.

“I wanted to ensure that the scope of the survey includes multiple areas of campus. Everything from composition of RSOs, faculty engagement, and whether or not existing programs and services are working,” Omonijo said in an e-mail.

The lack of representation of post-doctorate students and LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff on the Steering Committee was another topic of discussion. The moderators took note of this, but did not definitively state that they would increase the members of the Steering Committee.

The forum also focused on microaggressions, everyday verbal and nonverbal insults used to communicate hostile messages towards persons, solely based upon their membership in a marginalized group.

The forum ended with a suggestion that a website be included at the end of the survey that would allow for further exploration of topics regarding race and ethnicity on campus. The moderators also hoped to reassure participants that their voices had been considered through updates and offered an e-mail address, climate-survey-project@uchicago.edu, for students, faculty, and staff to offer input and questions.

“The wisdom of the group is much more powerful than any one individual,” McRae said to conclude the forum.

The survey drafting committee includes the Steering Committee, Diversity Advisory Council, Diversity Leadership Council, and the Working Group. The Steering Committee is a group of undergraduate and graduate students and various members of the staff and faculty. They were selected in order to represent a wide array of opinions and viewpoints. The Working Group, chaired by Micere Keels, associate professor of comparative human development, includes professionals in the survey development industry who will help construct the survey. The Diversity Advisory Council is a group composed of nine faculty members, five students, and various members from UChicago senior leadership. The Diversity Leadership Council includes a variety of administrators from cross sections of the University, the professional schools, and the Medical Center. Together they will inform the Steering Committee in composing the survey.

The first campus climate survey, which covered sexual misconduct, was administered in the spring of 2015. 3,955 people completed the survey. The survey was open to undergraduate and graduate students, and results showed that students at the University experienced sexual misconduct at rates similar to that of other institutions. More than half of undergraduate female respondents and 20% of undergraduate male respondents reported at least one instance of unwanted sexual experience. These experiences ranged from unwanted kissing to forcible penetration. The highest numbers were found for undergraduate women, in which one in six reported sex-based harassment ranging from unwanted contact to stalking.

The survey followed the consolidation of two pre-existing policies into one Unlawful Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct Policy, the creation of a student disciplinary committee, and the appointment of a new associate dean of students in the University for disciplinary affairs in July of 2014.

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