SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California faced one of its most pressing challenges Wednesday as it analyzed its first-ever systemwide climate assessment, which indicated that a significant number of individuals have experienced hostile or exclusionary conduct on UC campuses.
The UC Board of Regents tackled this issue at its March meeting, discussing how the university can better aid students and others who have experienced discomfort at the university. While a majority of individuals who responded to the university’s assessment expressed comfort with the university’s climate surrounding issues of race, gender and overall atmosphere, nearly a quarter of respondents reported that they had personally experienced exclusionary, hostile or offensive conduct at the university in the past year. Some 9 percent of respondents said this conduct interfered with their studies or work. UC Berkeley specifically saw similar results.
These findings — which follow recent debate on issues of sexual assault at the university, divestment from companies affiliated with Israel’s military and ongoing discussion of stagnant diversity levels — are the beginning of a systemwide effort to improve campus climate. Former UC president Mark Yudof initiated this move beginning in 2010, following a “Compton Cookout” themed party at UC San Diego and growing tensions between Muslim and Jewish organizations surrounding divestment at UC Berkeley.
According to the survey, undocumented, underrepresented minority, transgender and genderqueer respondents all expressed less comfort with the university climate in work and learning spaces than their counterparts. These results, while described by many as unsurprising, led the regents to urge greater campus engagement, particularly with subgroups that reported feeling more at odds with the university’s atmosphere.
“We seek for a zero percentage of any of this,” said Regent Bonnie Reiss.
More than 104,000 individuals responded to the survey, which was administered online from November 2012 through May 2013. It pooled data from a voluntary survey offered to staff, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and postdoctoral scholars at the university’s ten campuses, the UC Office of the President, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the university’s division of agriculture and natural resources. Rankin & Associates Consulting helped conduct the survey.
The study comes on the heels of current and former UC Berkeley students filing two federal complaints against the campus for alleged mishandling of sexual assault, in which many students claimed they felt unsafe. Four percent of survey respondents — about 500 individuals — from the campus reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact while at UC Berkeley within the last five years. Higher percentages of undergraduates reported these experiences than any other group.
Issues of race also surfaced in the study. Seventy-nine percent of all survey respondents reported that they were comfortable with the general campus climate, while 7 percent reported discomfort. Respondents from UC Berkeley and the university as a whole felt that the campus climate was typically least respectful of African Americans and Middle Eastern people and most respectful of white and Asian people.
This disparity of treatment based on race is a focus of campus administrators moving forward. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced a series of initiatives in response to the climate survey, including new student orientations beginning in summer 2014 and the formation of an advisory board for students of color on campus. He also announced plans to fund a grant program that will focus on fostering greater campus inclusion.
Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri said that although this is the first systemwide review the university has done, the results are similar to what he’s seen from past climate reports. In July 2012, the university issued a report on campus climate for Jewish students. Basri said the last campus review was a staff survey in 2008 and undergraduates are surveyed on issues of campus climate periodically.
He said one way to combat climate issues at UC Berkeley is to bolster the representation of underrepresented minorities — a venture that has continued to be a struggle for the campus, where African American enrollment for undergraduates dropped 2 percent from 2011 to 2012.
These groups also saw limited representation in the survey results themselves. According to the study, African Americans/Blacks, Asians/Asian Americans and Hispanics/Latinos were underrepresented in the survey responses compared to their population at the university, as were undergraduates. Some 21 percent of undergraduates participated in the study, according to UC data.
“With the response rate, do we have a basis to be positive about this report?” said Regent Eddie Island. “Do we have reason to believe the validity of its conclusions? How much confidence should we have in a response rate of 21 percent from our undergraduates?”
ASUC President DeeJay Pepito said that while the survey validated issues of inclusion on the Berkeley campus, it also failed to represent enough students. She said the survey itself was too long, making it inaccessible to overburdened individuals and students working in order to put themselves through school. She urged the campus to consider more holistic approaches to addressing campus climate.
“The idea of needing a survey to prove the experiences or validate the experiences that underrepresented communities face throughout the UC is completely unacceptable,” Pepito said. “We need to be looking at different ways of addressing campus climate and being on the ground.”
Despite contention, UC Provost Aimee Dorr said she expects campuses to use the results to develop plans for improvement in the coming months. This work will entail pursuing more campus-specific data analysis. Basri said his office plans to meet with different groups at UC Berkeley to gather input on survey results starting in April.
“It’s clear there’s room for improvement,” Dorr said. “We have a ways to go when we look at subgroups.”