Only half of students of color at University of Wisconsin-Madison report that they usually feel like they belong on campus, according to a results of a first-ever climate survey released Wednesday.
That compares to 69 percent of students overall who reported feeling “very or extremely often” that they belong. In addition to the 50 percent of students of color, 56 percent of students with a disability, 51 percent of LGBQ students, and 35 percent of transgender/non-binary students reported usually feeling they belong on campus.
Students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups also reported experiencing a less favorable climate than majority students on such measures as feeling safe, welcome and respected.
Approximately 80 percent of students overall reported very or extremely often feeling safe, welcome, and respected. But that number dropped to just over half of trans/non-binary students, and about two-thirds or less of students of color and disabled students.
"Non-binary" refers to students whose gender identity does not fit into the binary male/female characterization.
For some students, the campus climate is so unwelcoming they have considered leaving. About 12 percent of students said they had considered leaving UW-Madison this semester. Of that group, more students of color, 58 percent, reported campus culture or climate as the reason than did other groups.
“We must insist and ensure that every student on our campus is free from harm, feels a strong sense of belonging, and is treated with respect. Anything less is unacceptable,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank in a news release. “We are working very hard to address these disparities, but this effort will require everyone’s involvement.”
Blank noted in a call with reporters Wednesday that a number of initiatives to address campus climate already have been lauched.
The UW-Madison Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement and the UW Survey Center administered a campus-wide survey in fall 2016 seeking participation from all undergraduate, graduate, professional, and non-degree-seeking students. A total of 8,652 students completed the survey, a 21 percent response rate.
Participants included 5,784 white students 1,441 students of color, 786 LGBQ students, 485 students with a disability and 113 trans/non-binary students. Students of color make up 16 percent of the UW-Madison student body; the size of the other underrepresented groups is not tracked.
Blank told reporters the survey has been planned since 2014, but acknowledged that protests over the campus climate for students of color in the 2015-2016 academic year provided "further incentive" to conduct it. The number of reported incidents of bias against students tripled in spring-summer 2016.
“This is crucial feedback from the people who experience life on this campus on a very personal, emotional level every day,” said Patrick Sims, the university’s chief diversity officer. “To the students who reported negative experiences, I would say, ‘We’ve heard your concerns very clearly, and we will use this data to make our campus a more just and inclusive place.’”
Sims and Dean of Students Lori Berquam led a task force that studied the survey results and issued a set of recommendations. Those include:
• Promoting instructional best practices that ensure an inclusive learning environment;
• Boosting recruitment of underrepresented students, faculty and staff and making sure we retain them; and
• Increasing the capacity of students, faculty and staff to intervene in response to hostile, harassing and intimidating behavior.
“We all have a responsibility to be part of the solution,” Berquam said, noting the survey finding that a “vast majority” of students want the campus to be welcoming to everyone.
Overall, 72 percent of students said that it was very or extremely important that UW-Madison have a strong commitment to diversity. That sentiment was most widely held among students of color and LGBQ, 85 percent each, and least expressed among white students, 68 percent, and male students, 61 percent.
Senior Tiffany Ike, one of two student members of the 15-person task force, said one challenge for the campus moving forward will be to help majority students turn their positive talk about diversity and inclusion into tangible action.
“It’s one thing to say on a survey that you want diversity and inclusion to exist, but it takes real effort in your personal life to make sure it happens,” said Ike, a psychology and communication arts major from Houston, Texas. “I think that’s an important campus conversation we need to have. These recommendations are a good end goal, but it will take work to get there.”
Fewer students of color, 75 percent, reported that they usually felt respected by other students in study groups or working on projects together than did white students, 90 percent, or international students, 80 percent.
Only 63 percent of trans/non-binary students reported routinely feeling respected when they studied with classmates.
Trans/non-binary students also reported the lowest incidence, 55 percent, of typically feeling safe on campus.
Trans/non-binary students reported the highest incidence of being present for an incidence of hostile behavior, 51 percent, and being the target, 33 percent. This group of students also reported the lowest level, 22 percent, of being quite confident they have the tools to respond to such behavior.
Overall, 31 percent of 8,652 students participating in the survey said they witnessed or experienced an incident of hostile, harassing or intimidating behavior at UW-Madison. Of these 11 percent of students overall said they were the target of the behavior.
With so many students saying they were on the scene of hostile incidents and only 66 incidents reported in the latest campus report, Blank called the comparatively low incidence of reporting the "most concerning" finding of the survey.
She said she interpreted the survey findings not so much a call for 10 new programs, as incentive to make sure that programs initiated to improve campus climate are working.
Beyond that, Blank said the survey results are "a call to our entire campus that there are students here who don't always feel respected."
Results of the campus climate will be discussed at a number of public forums in the months ahead, beginning with the annual Diversity Forum on Nov. 7 at Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St. It features nationally known keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and a town hall meeting. It is free and registration is required.