Cal Poly survey finds many minority, female students report exclusionary treatment

Incoming Cal Poly students at a campus event during the 2013 Week of Welcome.
Incoming Cal Poly students at a campus event during the 2013 Week of Welcome.

 While 85 percent of Cal Poly undergraduate students are “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with the institutional climate at the university, about 22 percent of respondents in an unprecedented campuswide survey reported exclusionary treatment.

Women, non-whites, people with disabilities, first-generation students, veterans and gay, bisexual and transgender students expressed substantially higher levels of discomfort on the predominantly white Cal Poly campus.

Of the more than 6,200 people who participated in a Campus Climate Survey of students, faculty and staff, 64 percent identified themselves as white, while 22 percent said they were a “person of color” and 14 percent identified as “multiple race.”

The survey — a first for Cal Poly — examined the “institutional climate, inclusion and work-life issues so that Cal Poly is better informed about the living and working environments for students, faculty and staff,” the study authors said.

Cal Poly issued a summary of the survey Thursday; the full survey will be released Oct. 16.

It came after the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ accreditation board recommended inquiry into the issues, said Annie Holmes, executive director of the university’s Office of University Diversity and Inclusivity in an interview with Cal Poly’s Mustang News.

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong tasked Holmes’ office with examining campus climate in accordance with the university’s strategic plan.

Concerns about the culture at Cal Poly were heightened in November 2013 when an off-campus fraternity party themed “Colonial Bros and Nava-hos” sparked complaints that the event was “culturally insensitive, sexist and offensive.” The frat party drew national attention and prompted a university forum and discussions about racism and sexism on campus.

In 2008, a Halloween-related incident at the university’s Crops House involved the display of a Confederate flag and noose, as well as an alleged racist and anti-gay sign.

The survey was part of a priority that Armstrong has placed on “the importance of a campus climate that nurtures diversity and inclusivity.”

“We will have an enriching, inclusive environment where every student, faculty and staff member is valued,” Armstrong said, as part of his Vision 2022 speech in May.

The survey was conducted by Pennsylvania-based consultant Rankin & Associates from Feb. 26 through April 4 via a secured online portal or confidential paper questionnaires. The results included responses from about 30 percent of the campus.

The survey consisted of 108 questions, including several open-ended questions that offered respondents the chance to make comments.

Among those who reported discriminatory or hostile conduct, a much higher percentage of women than men reported the treatment was based on their gender — 44 percent for women versus 18 percent for men.

Among responses from “people of color,” 51 percent said they experienced exclusionary conduct based on their race compared with 8 percent of white respondents.

And 58 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer respondents reported exclusionary conduct based on their sexual identity, compared to 8 percent of heterosexual respondents and 15 percent of those who identified as asexual/other.

Male faculty, library and staff respondents reported a 73 percent rate of comfort versus 62 percent of female counterparts.

A “small but meaningful” percentage of respondents experienced “unwanted sexual contact” while at Cal Poly — 5 percent of those who participated.

Eight percent of women respondents reported receiving unwanted sexual contact and 10 percent of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, said they received unwanted contact.

But the report concluded that the campus climate findings are “consistent with those found in higher education institutions across the country based on the work of R&A Consulting.”

The report cites that a rate of 70 to 80 percent of those who say they are “comfortable” or “very comfortable” is consistent with other campuses nationwide.

Those assessments included 90 percent of students who believe many of their courses this year have been intellectually stimulating and 88 percent who indicated their interest in ideas and intellectual matters has increased since coming to Cal Poly.

The survey also gauged faculty and staff attitudes about their jobs.

Of the staff members in support positions at the university, 67 percent were comfortable with taking leave they felt entitled to without fear that it may affect their jobs. Seventy-nine percent found Cal Poly supportive of their taking leave.

Fifty-nine percent said their supervisors provided ongoing feedback to help improve their performance. Fifty-five percent of staff respondents felt Cal poly offered flexible work schedules.

Of faculty and librarian respondents, 63 percent believed their colleagues included them in opportunities to help their career as much as they did others in their same position; 53 percent felt the tenure/promotion process was clear, while 57 percent felt the process is reasonable.

On Oct. 16 the full report will be issued. Cal Poly will hold two public forums that day on the survey, scheduled for 11:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:10 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Chumash Auditorium on campus.

Cal Poly will hold a series of discussions and workshops in November to pursue courses of action to improve the campus climate and address areas of concern.

“During winter quarter Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong will communicate to the campus the key areas of focus that emerge from the focus groups and workshops,” Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said in a statement.