UC climate survey requires more context

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: The UC system’s campus climate survey is a positive first step, but officials must gather more information before taking action.

The much-anticipated results of the systemwide UC climate report, which were released at the UC Board of Regents’ meeting Wednesday, confirmed what many students likely already knew. But to ensure the the survey translates into positive change for students, UC administrators must conduct more qualitative climate assessments and interpret the results relative to campus climate at other universities.

Across UC campuses, nearly a quarter of students said they had experienced discomfort, hostility or exclusion over the past year in regard to issues surrounding race, gender and overall atmosphere. Nine percent of respondents said that conduct interfered with their academic or job performance. And undocumented, transgender, genderqueer and underrepresented minority students at the university all expressed feeling less comfortable than their counterparts.

For the most part, these figures make sense. Some inequities in the UC system are well-documented regarding, for example, the dearth of African Americans or dissatisfaction with the university’s response to sexual assault. But the statistical confirmation of campus climate issues are nonetheless important. Aside from just increasing awareness about these issues, the results of the survey reinforce the need for the university to continue improving its students’ experience as a whole, especially for more vulnerable demographics.

The results of the survey, however, only elucidate the issues students face. They do not identify causes or point to solutions. Individual campuses’ efforts to improve climate in the wake of the survey are laudable, but the numbers don’t tell us everything. And in a university as large as the UC system, some people will always feel alienated, incidents of bullying will persist and social and racial inequalities that exist throughout the rest of the society will appear on campus as well. In order to reduce these problems as much as possible, UC officials need to gather more information.

To identify how to best respond to the survey’s results, the university should seek a more qualitative understanding of the survey’s results and compare it to data from similar institutions. As Regent Bonnie Reiss said, all these numbers should be zero percent.

Determining the measures the university should take to address the survey’s results necessitates a better comprehension of them. UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has already announced the creation of a task force for students of color as well as changes to student orientation -— this is encouraging. At the systemwide level, the university should press similar institutions for climate data so that it has a metric for comparison.

The survey is a good first step in understanding and addressing the problems it describes. Now, the university must continue gathering data from its students and other universities to paint a better picture of life on its campuses.