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ISSUE 119 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/10/2006

Survey guages climate

By April Wright
Staff Writer

Friday, March 10, 2006

In the interest of promoting respect and understanding among students, faculty, administration and staff, St. Olaf issued a call to the community to respond to the Campus Climate Survey, which official closed today.

This survey measures the climate around issues such as race, gender and sexual orientation. Previous surveys, in particular one developed by the Teagle Foundation, measured only issues around race and ethnicity, according to Dean of Students Greg Kneser. While that survey gave the administration some good suggestions, including creating the position of Community Life and Diversity Dean, the college requested another survey with a broader span.

The Campus Climate Survey examined racial and ethnic issues, but has expanded into other areas. It measured student sentiments on gender, religious background, sexual orientation, political views and economic and geographic backgrounds. The voluntary survey, which was taken online, is anonymous. Initially, students were prompted with a request for their username and passwords, but this is simply to prevent students from taking it multiple times, and responses are in no way bound to a student’s name. The whole process took about 20 minutes to complete.

The data were collected and are currently being analyzed. The results will be available April 2006. Kneser stated that the school needs to be "very public about it – good, bad or otherwise," and that the information will be available for students.

The data is then used to help staff figure out how inclusive the campus is and what programs are helping students feel comfortable. Like in 2000 with the creation of the Office of Community Life and Diversity, the data and comments will be applied to campus programs.

While the administration is excited about this survey, it will most likely not be annual. Kneser cited a need not to make students "survey-weary."

It is more likely that this survey will be circulated every three years, and will rotate with other surveys. Rotating the surveys encourages students to participate more often, which gives a larger, more inclusive and more accurate data set with which the college to work.

So far, response has been fair, with 30 percent of students, roughly 18 percent of faculty and about 45 percent of administration and staff responding, for an overall response rate of around 37 percent. Additionally, there are 297 surveys that have been started, but not completed.

Kneser was proud of the responses. A 30 to 40 percent return is necessary, and an 80 percent response rate is the goal, according to Eida Berrio, dean of Community Life and Diversity.

While reactions to the survey tend to be positive, many students see room for improvement in the treatment of non-racial issues in the survey.

In a sentiment echoed by other students, Ann Stanton '08, a leader for Gay, Lesbian or Whatever! (GLOW!) said that she felt "the majority of questions didn't seem to be about diversity in general, but about racial diversity." Stanton pointed out that the form did include comment boxes for students whose concerns were not addressed in the body of the survey.

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