Cal Poly to hold workshops to address concerns about diversity

Consultant Susan Rankin, a nationally-recognized researcher in higher education from Pennsylvania State University, presents the findings of Cal Poly's Campus Climate Survey at a workshop Thursday.
Consultant Susan Rankin, a nationally-recognized researcher in higher education from Pennsylvania State University, presents the findings of Cal Poly's Campus Climate Survey at a workshop Thursday.

Cal Poly will hold a series of workshops in coming weeks to consider whether the university should make institutional changes after a campus survey released Thursday found some concerns regarding diversity and work-life issues.

Campus officials said the workshops will be held in November and then in January, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong will address key findings that emerge from those meetings.

On Thursday, Cal Poly released its Campus Climate Survey, which consisted of 93 questions posed to university students, staff and faculty on how comfortable they feel at the university.

The 331-page report was made public a week after a 16-page executive summary was released that posted key findings. Cal Poly held two workshops Thursday in conjunction with the release of the full report.

“University administrators are seeing these results for the first time today, along with the rest of the campus,” said Annie Holmes, the university’s executive director of diversity and inclusivity. “The campus community will now determine how we move forward and implement change.”

A first for Cal Poly, the report 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 said.

The survey shows that most Cal Poly students believe they are receiving a quality education, while most faculty members reported feeling comfortable and content in their jobs.

But the survey also found reports of sexual assault; minorities who experience levels of discomfort at much higher rates than whites; and faculty and librarians considering leaving the campus.

The survey received responses from more than 6,300 members of the campus community — about 29 percent of the campus.

Respondents broke down demographically as 77 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Asian, 3 percent Middle Eastern, 2 percent American Indian, and 2 percent black with Pacific Islander, Alaskan native, Hawaiian native and "other" making up the rest.

Consultant Susan Rankin, a nationally recognized researcher in higher education from Pennsylvania State University, led the survey and presented its findings at the two workshops Thursday. Rankin has conducted a similar survey for the University of California system.

She spent some time discussing the finding that 5 percent of those surveyed, or 302 respondents, had experienced unwanted sexual conduct. She said the number was higher than she has seen elsewhere. Of those, only 9.6 percent sought support from a campus resource.

Several of the responders posted in the comment section reasons why they didn’t report the incident — including fears of the legal process or being blamed, or simply wanting to move on with their lives.

“I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, get him in trouble, and have unnecessary and unwanted attention on me,” one person commented.

One audience member questioned whether the survey represented the full extent of sexual assaults because some people may not have reported them.

Rankin agreed that it was impossible to know.

“It breaks my heart to see this,” Rankin said. “My research nationally has shown that most often these are women who are undergrads in their first term, and the incident happens within the first six weeks of their campus experience. Often they involve partying and alcohol.”

The survey also found that 44 percent of women and 18 percent of men reported experiencing discriminatory or hostile conduct based on their gender.

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.

Only 8 percent of responders said they informed a university official about these incidents.

“These kinds of things are subtle, but they can be very impactful and build up to impact someone heavily over time,” Rankin said.

Among faculty and librarians, 56 percent have considered leaving Cal Poly.

However, more than 80 percent of students felt valued in the classroom and 84 percent said faculty were supportive while 77 percent said staff were generally concerned with their welfare — which Rankin considered positive signs. About 80 percent overall felt comfortable or very comfortable on campus.

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