College requires high response rate for effective diversity survey

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Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez released an update on plans to improve diversity and equity on campus following continued pressure from students and faculty on March 18. Most immediately, administrators will facilitate campus-wide talks on diversity and distribute the Diversity Learning Environments (DLE) survey to all students.

In an email to the school, Gonzalez reiteratedthe school’s original goals for diversity and detailed recent efforts to reach these objectives. According to Gonzalez’s email, administrators structured their plan around the themes of “building and sustaining a diverse community” and “enhancing the curriculum, improving the Oxy experience and facilitating participation in high-impact academic and co-curricular experiences.”

The DLE survey and conversations on diversity address the first theme outlined by Gonzalez. Assisstant Dean for Academic Affairs Hanna Spinosa described how the initiatives together will provide a holistic view of diversity at Occidental.

The comprehensive and anonymous survey, administered by UCLA, measures student perceptions of diversity within a school’s campus climate, practices and learning outcomes. As Gonzalez’s email states, the conversations – one of which occurred yesterday – will aim to “provide a foundation for ongoing discussions about definitions and reporting standards” and “provide an important framework for additional conversations and high-impact activities.”

Spinosa facilitated the dialogue between students, faculty, staff and administrators and will use the findings to aid in her office’s research.

“In terms of the conversations we’re having, it’s really showing the landscape of what kind of data we have, what we want to measure and how we’re going to assess that,” Spinosa said in an interview. “We need to come to a consensus as a campus on how we define diversity and equity.”

During the meeting, which about 20 students attended, Spinosa encouraged students to add to the definition of diversity. Spinosa believes she will be able to better track progress once the school can establish standards for diversity and equity. Some of this progress will be measured by the DLE survey.

According to Spinosa at the meeting held in Choi Auditorium, all the survey results will help give a view of the structural diversity at Occidental. But, she stipulated, the school should not wait for the results of the survey (which will likely not be available until fall) to implement change.

“Structural diversity is not a product, it’s a process,” she said.

Dean Barbara Avery, who was present for the meeting, answered a question regarding senior administration’s commitment to this issue of diversity.

“We always try to meet the needs of all students on this campus. It’s a discussion that we have at our administrative table all the time,” she said.

When analyzed alongside a Higher Education Research Institute survey taken by all entering first-years, the school will also be able to track changes in students’ perceptions of diversity through their Occidental career. The survey will also allow administrators to compare Occidental to peer institutions across the country. Dean Gonzalez sent out an email to students last monday inviting them to take the DLE survey. Interested students can access the survey through Gonzalez’s email.

According to Spinosa, this is the first time that the entire student population will take the DLE survey. Various committees have done similar research, but not to the same extent. This time, campus-wide student data combined with results from a similar faculty survey will be able to provide a broader picture on diversity and equity at Occidental and provide quantitative support for students’ personal stories of discrimination.

“Sharing stories is half the battle, but I need them to show up in numbers on the survey. I need to know how prevalent issues [are] on campus across every subgroup,” Spinosa said.

Both Gonzalez and Spinosa view the DLE survey as crucial in campus initiatives to improve diversity and equity on campus, but Spinosa said that it will only be effective if everyone participates. Given the small size of the school, a high response rate is needed to form a representative sample. Spinosa – using the framework outlined by the campus talks – will then present on these findings next fall.

The Coalition at Oxy for Diversty and Equity (CODE) member and Latino/a and Latin American Studies major Jasmine Tovar (senior) expressed appreciation for these efforts – many of which come as a direct response to CODE demands – but remained wary of their ultimate outcome.

“I hope that these plans are not simply talk and more action is being taken in order to achieve our diversity pillar. Conversations on diversity have been had by many Occidental community members for far too long and I believe it is time for the administration to make steps in addressing these issues.” Tovar said via email.

According to Tovar, CODE’s ultimate goal is that the administration take the necessary steps to ensure that the campus is safe and inclusive for students of all backgrounds. Tovar encourages students to take the DLE survey and to continue to apply pressure on the administration to make these changes.

To realize CODE’s overall objective, the administration has implemented other initiatives in addition to the DLE survey and campus-wide talks. Other updates mentioned in Gonzalez’s email include developing a “Talking about Teaching” lunch series to discuss the academic success of underrepresented groups, expanding the hours of the Intercultural Community Center, improving the first year orientation segment on diversity and hiring five new faculty members of color.

The next conversation facilitated by Spinosa will occur on April 3 at 11:30 p.m. The location has yet to be determined.