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Conducting a diversity and equity campus climate survey

March 2, 2022

Dr. Chassidy Cooper, PhD

Coordinator for Equity and Inclusion, East Tennessee State University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Since March 2020, I had the pleasure of serving as the coordinator for equity and inclusion at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). Excitingly, I entered this role during the nexus of a global pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, protests across the country and ongoing attempts to undermine the presidential election.

Like many regional comprehensive institutions, ETSU grapples with how best to meet its mission through teaching, research, and service activities. These challenges presented a unique opportunity for the Office of Equity and Inclusion to tackle the status quo from a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens.

Succinctly, my capstone project focused on successfully launching the HEDs Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey. The survey was launched in April 2021, during a challenging time and circumstances that undoubtedly impacted our ETSU faculty, staff, and students’ perceptions of campus climate.

Despite the challenges (and many campus constituents questioning the timing of the HEDS Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey launch on our campus and a small team), our institution was able to use this survey data to develop understanding of how campus climate supports diversity, equity, and inclusion. The survey also helped inform and improve policies and practices at ETSU related to DEI, including responding and prevention discrimination and harassment.

Launching a campus climate survey

ETSU is a unique regional comprehensive institution in that it has significant academic health science center infrastructure, including a college of medicine and pharmacy. With an institutional vision of improving the quality of life of the people of the Appalachian Highlands region, diversity, equity, and inclusion is unarguably missional.

The EAB Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship experience was a perfect catalyst for proposing solutions. The resources available in the university, coupled with EAB’s Campus Climate survey launch preparedness toolkit, allowed us to develop a comprehensive campus-wide approach to get the word out and bring more constituents into the planning process to successfully implement the campus climate survey in April 2021.

Campus climate survey results

As a result, the HEDS campus survey data yielded a good response rate with 1,352 people out of approximate 15,000 people responding to the campus climate survey. There was an adequate distribution and response rate that fairly represents each group’s (faculty, staff, and students) perceptions of ETSU campus climate.

Campus constituents questioned whether this year’s HEDS Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey (HEDS D&E) data are different, and specifically more negative, than peer institutional data from prior years. Given the events of the last year such as the murder of George Floyd, the global pandemic, political protests across the country, and the incessant attempts to undermine the presidential election, it was surprising that the responses to the HEDS diversity and equity survey looked a little more positive this year.

According to HEDS research, increasing the diversity on campus increases both positive and negative interactions. The small positive differences we see in this year’s HEDS diversity and equity survey data may stem from changes related to COVID-19. Specifically, campus living, dining, classroom, and other restrictions related to COVID-19 made it less likely for people from different backgrounds and with different identities to interact with one another. Fewer interactions among diverse groups of people meant fewer opportunities for people to experience, or engage in, negative interactions.

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