Gauging the climate on campus

A survey sent to all U of S students on campuses across the province is designed to gauge how welcome, respected and supported they feel as members of the university community.

Tanya Robertson-Frey, a research analyst in the Institutional Planning and Assessment office, put the survey together to collect information about "the overall campus climate and the experiences and perceptions of students." A link to the survey has been emailed to every student, along with a request to complete it by Dec. 6.

The project stems from a strategic goal identified in the university's third integrated plan. That goal calls on the U of S to provide a "safe and welcoming environment in attitude, support services and infrastructure," and to "carry out efforts to encourage and support activities that lead to the development of a more diverse and inclusive community."

Robertson-Frey said the first step in building the survey was to research various definitions of campus climate. The one chosen for the U of S survey describes campus climate as the perceptions and attitudes regarding issues of diversity on campus.

"Research has shown that the campus environment can influence learning outcomes for students," she said, "and their attitudes about staying in school so it's important to try to understand their experiences."

She explained the survey is divided into a number of sections, the first being  "questions that ask students whether they see themselves as part of the university community. We want to know if they've witnessed or experienced harassment, exclusion or insensitive comments or jokes," she said. "We want to know if this is a welcoming environment or if they're running into any difficulties."

The survey also explores the classroom experience of students and their interactions with faculty and staff through questions like whether there is a staff person the student feels comfortable talking to and whether they have seen stereotyping in class.

"We also have a section about their experiences with a variety of support services on campus," said Robertson-Frey, including various students centres, the library and Student Central. "We're looking here to determine how helpful or unhelpful these support services are."

Students are also asked how the university might enhance or improve the campus climate. There are a number of options for students to choose from, said Robertson-Frey, including cross-cultural dialogue, diver-sity training for staff and faculty, or similar training for students. "We're also asking them for any other recommendations they might have."

The survey requires students to respond to questions on a scale of one to five "but there's usually an opportunity to provide additional comments after each section."

Robertson-Frey admitted it is challenging to do an objective analysis of subjective responses to questions about personal experiences and perceptions "but by getting a good response rate, we believe we would have a representative sample from which to draw objective conclusions. We're hoping everyone takes part, which would allow us to look at the results of different subgroups of the student population."

A report will be prepared based on the survey results, likely by spring 2014. It will evaluate the responses and "will highlight both the positive and negative in the campus environment." That report, she said, will be part of the development of future strategic plans around student experiences at the University  of Saskatchewan.

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