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Student Climate Survey

Student Climate Survey for Diversity 2018

This report provides insights into the graduate and undergraduate student perceptions of the diversity climate on campus.  The reports provide a baseline understanding of students' experiences and is meant to be used to support broad initiatives, providing confirmation to some of our assumptions, and bringing to light new information.  Some of the responses have a low sample size and we therefore caution against over-reliance on the data and we urge readers to refrain from drawing broad conclusions.

Members of the Northwestern community can access these reports and tableau view of the data.  An active NetID and password is required):

Executive Summary – Climate Survey for Diversity

In Winter Quarter 2018, the University administered its first-ever Climate Survey for Diversity. The survey was sent to all currently-enrolled undergraduate students and graduate students who are part of The Graduate School, and degree-seeking undergraduates and graduate students in the School of Professional Studies. Of the 14,458 invitations to participate, just over 2,300 students (57% Undergrad/43% Grad) responded, for a response rate of 16 percent. The survey was a modified version of Skyfactor’s “Student Campus Climate, Safety, and Sexual Assault Assessment.” These modifications included the removal of a block of questions focused on sexual assault and the addition of a new section focused on issues of bias events on campus. Two reports were created: one for undergraduate students and another for graduate students.

This initial survey for diversity was administered to provide a benchmark for the various ongoing initiatives focused on students’ experiences on campus. Planned and subsequent climate surveys for diversity will assess the effectiveness of student-facing program and policy improvements. 

The climate survey team reviewed these 2018 survey data from a number of different angles: specifically, results were anchored on the two main outcome variables of the Skyfactor survey: satisfaction and environment for learning. In analyzing the results, three different themes emerged. First, questions related to bias incidents generated the most notable results. A striking number of students, 33% overall, had either witnessed or experienced a bias incident or microaggression on campus. This is concerning and must lead to actions to reduce the incidents that occur. Even more alarming was that only 14% of this population reported the event to a university authority. The data generated from this survey can be used to better understand why those students did not report the incidents. Additionally, future surveys will seek additional information from students as to why they choose not to report these incidents.

The second emerging theme the analysis reveals is that females, gender-queer, and lesbian, gay and bisexual students have lower scores for satisfaction and satisfaction predictors when compared to white, male, heterosexuals. Future action steps should be focused on identities that predict variance in satisfaction and the environment for learning.  These actions could inform already-existing initiatives designed to enhance the undergraduate and graduate student experience, e.g., Black Student Experience Task Force Report Recommendations; Gender-Queer, Non-Binary, Transgender Support Task Force; Undergraduate Student Lifecycle; Veterans Support Initiative; and Institution-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

Third, the interactions with faculty and staff were a source of more than half of the bias incidents. Students’ ratings of their perceptions of faculty and staff are below the established benchmark[1] in areas of faculty concern for their welfare, value of different perspectives in the classroom, and ability to turn controversial topics into constructive discussions in the classroom. Some of this information informs efforts to advise faculty and staff development and training initiatives.

It should be noted that variance in satisfaction and environment for learning was not highly predicted by a student’s School affiliation. The stronger predictors for these measures of satisfaction and the environment for learning were the demographic characteristics of race/ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. While there are differences in satisfaction and environment for learning by School affiliation, the reason for these differences is likely to be based on systematic differences in identities of students between various Schools than on any other specific factors occuring within Schools.

[1] The established benchmark is an average score of 5.5 or higher on a 7.0-point scale. This was established by Skyfactor as a suggested goal, whereby approximately 75% of respondents agree with a given item.

The findings of the Survey recommend several action items: