A Response to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. The next few posts were going to be final updates/reflections on Condor Class Libraries and a few posts about teaching. After that, I had plans of more posts on lit, thoughts I being a second semester senior, etc.

However, I’ve returned to blogging early to provide my reactions to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment–as its release has caused some strong reactions from my collegiate peers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 2.35.13 PM
This blog post is broken down into 4 main sections:
1. Background Info: addressing race & higher ed (2015)
2. Cornell College Unrest: addressing issues students have raised with how the college operates.
3. Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment: a brief recap of what was studied, how it was studied, and the results it produced (for readers outside the current Cornell student body or Cornellians who haven’t read the report).
4. My Reflection: thoughts on the assessment

Those of you in the Cornell community may want to scroll down to the reflection, but if you need more context #1-3 are here.

1. BACKGROUND INFO

This past year has been a big year for college campuses when it comes to addressing racial discrimination (which has spurred other conversations regarding the discrimination of marginalized groups on college campuses).  The Black Lives Matter movement received support on campuses across the country. We applauded the University of Missouri football player’s protest and finally started to pay attention to concerned student 1950. Many of us showed our support for peers across the country and were inspired to join them in the fight for equality and justice.

When people who are systematically denied power acknowledge the power they do have, by being vocal/active in the fight for equality, there is always push back. Sometimes it’s explicit:  I’ve witnessed white peers step into dialogues to announce that police brutality is not real and that black people are not discriminated against (citing that one time their brother was pulled over as evidence). Sometimes it’s implicit: the all lives matter movement appeared in no time and my campus was no exception.

And for as much as we cheered for progress at Mizzou, we were forced to hold our breathes as black students were terrorized by threats.

From the Ivy leagues to liberal arts colleges people of color are fighting for inclusion (see Yale and Claremont McKenna College). This is not to suggest that this fight is new. But for collegiate peers, staff, and administration who have left their racial privileges unchecked–these articles and protests appear to them as an eye-opener at best and an offensive annoyance at worst.

2. CORNELL COLLEGE UNREST

Students have taken a lot of issue with Cornell College throughout the years including, but not limited to:
–lack of effective/timely response when addressing discriminatory incidents (ex. swastikas drawn, a noose placed in someone’s bed, the N-word tagged on buildings, etc).
–lack of safety felt by PoC, physically and psychologically, due to the fact that people who make overtly racist/sexist and other -ist comments (either openly or anonymously online) could be sitting next to you in class.
–lack of diversity when it comes to professors and other staff (aka predominately white).
–lack of policies/action that is working to combat a campus culture that doesn’t always respect/understand the struggle marginalized groups face.
And here is where the campus becomes very divided… I would say the biggest tension we face when it comes to striving for an inclusive campus:
–administration preferencing students’ free speech over communities’ safe spaces. (Aka we have to respect both sides even when one side is “I can’t believe we live in a country where a child can be murdered and not receive justice and “the other side” is let me clarify why he is dead and tell you why it’s not race related).
VS.
–administration not supporting diversity of political thought by allowing Republicans/conservatives to be “villainized” and, in turn, silenced on what some feel is an overly liberal campus.

3. CORNELL COLLEGE CAMPUS CLIMATE ASSESSMENT

SUMMARY
This document is password protected for the viewing of current Cornell students and I do not feel it’s necessary for me to make it public: if you attend Cornell College you can see it and if you don’t I doubt you’d want to read the 30+ pages it contains. Instead, I’ll give relevant excerpts taken from email, the Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment, and the Campus Climate Assessment’s Executive Summary. I understand that I leave out a lot of information (ex. breakdown of demographics) but this is all in an attempt to be as concise as possible in a post that is already very long. Feel free to ask for additional information in the comments section.

Email excerpt from Cornell College president Jonathan Brand, when sharing the link to the campus climate assessment:

The report reveals that, while we are doing well in some areas, improvements are needed in others.  Actions already underway to make improvements to our campus climate include:
•a revision of the bias-related behavior policy,
•an initiative to increase faculty diversity,
•a “Cultural Awareness Series” for faculty and staff on a variety of topics, and
•a new Social Justice Initiative to increase awareness and provide forums about discrimination of various types on the local, national, and international levels.

Next steps include:
•crafting official College statements on diversity, expression, and civil discourse—to be joined with our mission and core values statements,
•developing and providing diversity training that all employees will be expected to complete, and
•continuing our conversations together—faculty, staff, and students—to address issues of concern.

The next set of these opportunities will be sessions this month for the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment to review results of the Campus Climate Assessment with us.

Campus Climate Assessment Purpose: to answer the following

1. How do students perceive the psychological climate of the campus?
2. How do students characterize the behavioral climate of the campus, including the interactions among diverse groups of individuals and engagement with diversity issues via the Executive Summary

Quantitative Design/Results (via survey):

Quantitative data were collected via administration of the CIRP Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) Survey (Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA). The DLE was administered in Spring 2014 to the entire Cornell College student body. Of the 1,084 students invited to participate, 564 completed the survey, yielding a 52% response rate… via Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment 

According to the Executive Summary of this assessment. The results found that overall, when compared to other similar 4-year institutions, Cornell students did not differ from peers and when they did Cornell students reported things such as more diversity (than at other colleges) and higher levels of positive interaction with diverse peers. Reports of racial tension were minimal.

Qualitative Design/Results (via focus group interviews):

The qualitative element of the study explored the “lived experience” of students as related to campus climate. Two researchers conducted 14 focus group interviews with a total interview population of approximately 70 students.1 Interviews were scheduled first with intact student organizations who were interested in participating in the study. After the DLE Survey, then, all participating students were given the opportunity to sign up to participate in a focus group interview. As a result, 8 of the focus groups were intact organizations and 6 were mixed groups of individuals interested in participating. Qualitative data were analyzed using an interview log (Merriam, 1998) to capture relevant units of data that then were coded and categorized. Themes emerged from the categories of data. via Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment

The following are, in a nutshell, the results (taken from the Executive Summary):Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.27.58 AM

4. MY REFLECTION

It is worth noting that large portion of the report was the Qualitative Data which included a lot of quotes from students regarding various issue. I have not included those quotes above because I will be discussing some of them here.

Let me begin by saying I appreciate what Cornell College has done here because it’s a legitimate, professional, attempt at looking into the issues that exist on campus. But you cannot accurately quantify discrimination–something this study, in part, attempts to do. One issue with trying to do this is: if target groups (aka those oppressed/discriminated against) feel stigma and discrimination and answer the survey that still leaves agent groups (those who don’t face discrimination) reporting they do not feel that way. In the end, the result will be that–when it comes race for example–most students at Cornell will report no issues; but this is only because, as a predominately white campus, most students will not face racial discrimination in their personal lives.

This is why the qualitative results became so important as a way of showcasing the realities of students and the gaps that exist in understanding. The contrast is shocking at points

“We shouldn’t have to be ensuring our own safety.” Alliance member, referring to the Safe Zone trainings the organization offers [open-ended survey response]

vs

[I would like] “less racist remarks toward white folks and discrimination of white people. I feel as if colored people’s views are crammed down my throat. …I also feel like LGBTQ is also being crammed down my throat and I do not feel like there is enough things to do for heterosexual people. I feel like white male conservative people get very discriminated against. I have taken classes with professors that are feminist and are very sexist. They will give a male student a bad grade just because they are male…” [open-ended survey response]

Some of my peers have taken to social media to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and–in some cases–laugh at ignorant comments such as the one above. All of which are valid responses and, for some, coping mechanisms.

I, myself, read the report and spent the evening making the following cartoon as a response to the student who quoted Morgan Freeman, citing: “the best way to end racism is to stop talking about it”
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This is one way I cope and express my opinions: highlighting logical fallacies by following them down the rabbit hole in ridiculous fashions to point out: “if you think ___, you’re part of the problem.”

But what I fear is, in our justified gut reactions, we will miss the big picture:
This is Cornell. This is the world we live in. Let’s not get distracted by pointing out specific ignorant comments without contextualizing them and examining the messages they are really sending.

We may look at this “I do not feel like there is enough things to do for heterosexual people” comment as whiney at best and ignorant at worst but what is really being said here is “I hate that you are taking up space that I feel entitled to.” Which is just me relaying the quote’s sentiment in a more articulate fashion: this is a lot less amusing to think about and a lot harder to brush off as “just one of a few ignorant Cornellians!”

Remember, this report isn’t meant to showcase the worst of Cornell… simply what IS Cornell. For all the cringe-worthy comments I saw, I also saw quotes that made me think about issues I have the privilege to leave as an afterthought, such as:

“I feel like that [socioeconomic status] doesn’t get addressed very much here. And, as a student who is homeless, I think it’s really important to talk about. And, what we’re doing for low-income students, other than giving them good money to go here.”

“I have friends that can’t visit me because they can’t get to my door.”

“I believe that work still needs to be done in regards to recognizing the challenges faced by the disabled community at Cornell, especially those regarding some of the more common learning disabilities. While it is a minority opinion, there are still those uninformed at Cornell who argue that some disorders (ADHD being the first to come to mind) are a ‘myth,’ despite an overwhelming body of evidence that proves otherwise. In the college’s defense, there are members of staff who really do try to help…more needs to be done.”

“the professor decided she couldn’t say my name. My name is [Kaibecka]. But, she wouldn’t tell me that she couldn’t say my name. So, she called me ‘Susan’ and she marked me absent when I wouldn’t answer her. She marked me absent for a week and, so, I had to go to the Registrar and explain that I was there. [The professor] was like, ‘oh, I felt awkward. I couldn’t explain it to you.’ And, I was like ‘I sat right in front of you and you marked me absent for a whole week because I wouldn’t answer to what you wanted to call me.’”

Hopefully, something in the report resonated with other Cornellians too.

Most importantly we all need to attend any upcoming data and dissemination talks to push for change. And remember to focus our energies on the proposals President Brand mentioned in the email and think about what we need moving forward so that people like this “I feel as if colored people’s views are crammed down my throat. …I also feel like LGBTQ is also being crammed down my throat” white man get left behind.

Because the truth is there’s never going to be a campus where everyone feels included because there will always be those who will use racist, sexist, homophobic, gender bias, etc, language like it’s nothing. There will always be hateful people. People who want to “make America great again.” People who feel silenced because they hear me speak up for the first time.

These people should not feel comfortable at Cornell College or  any institution of higher education because they lack the willingness to be open-minded, think critically, be empathetic, and be engaged with the civics and social justice necessary to have a more just & prosperous world. We do not want these people in positions of power and leadership (though I’m sure some of us do: see Donald Trump)

The two quotes I examined, at the beginning of my reflection, are just two of many that reveal a core tension that exists both at Cornell and in the world: marginalized people who want to claim space and dominant groups who don’t want to give up theirs. Which often hides in the form of protests and discussions vs. I don’t think there’s anything to discuss here…

This assessment, as flawed as it may be, puts that tension on display. It is up to us to hold it up to the light and examine it for what is is–in front of our peers, our professors, and our administrators–and say “what now?” To which they will rattle off the latest initiatives. And to which we must respond: “yes, and…?”

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