Pathway campus climate survey results announced

Sunnie Ning ‘18News Editor

On Tuesday, April 18, Susan Rankin, senior research associate from Rankin & Associates, presented a qualitative report on the responses for the Pathway Campus Climate Survey to the Smith community in Graham Hall, Hillyer.

In 2016, Smith College created and conducted Pathways, a comprehensive campus survey to assess the college’s campus climate. Current students, faculty and staff were asked to answer a collective of 111 quantitative and qualitative questions.

President Kathleen McCartney opened the talk by restating that the goal of the survey was to assess the learning living and working environment at Smith College. “The survey has several goals: to identify successful initiatives, to identify any challenges faced by members of the community, and to develop strategic initiatives to build on the successes and address the challenges,” said McCartnery. “The survey is like a mirror, through it we see Smith – the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Dwight Hamilton, the Vice President for inclusion, diversity and equity at Smith, acknowledged the working groups and focus groups that helped designed the survey and promote it. He then introduced Dr. Sue Rankin, a professor, scholar, coach and activist promoting LGBTQ rights.

After introducing herself, Rankin talked about the context and the importance of the campus climate study. She defined climate as current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of the employees and students of an institution. Assessing Smith’s campus climate is vital because research shows that the campus environment affects learning and developmental outcomes for students and the personal and professional development of faculty and staff.  Campus climate was measured in three different ways: personal experience, perceptions and institutional efforts. Rankin stressed that the process was transparent, and that the administration only saw the results the morning of its release. Rankin also masked data that contained the information of less than five students to ensure confidentiality.

A total of 1,477 students, staff and faculty completed the survey at a response rate of 34 percent.  According to Rankin, overall, the students, faculty and staff reported high levels of comfort with the climate at Smith College.

Rankin also noted some overwhelming trends in the data. Mental health was identified as a problem faced by students at Smith more than at other institutions. Among the students, 73.5 percent of respondents reported having mental health or psychological conditions. Personal experiences and observed incidences of injustice associated with ethnic identity and race are a common problem. Among the demographic groups, first-generation students, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities consistently report facing more misconducts, feeling less comfortable with the environment and receiving less help.

Importantly, nine percent of all respondents experienced unwanted sexual conduct, but most did not use the support system. Most of these incidences happened during the first and second year at Smith. Rankin noted that unwanted sexual conduct is a national pandemic across higher education institution.

The full report will be made available to the Smith community in the coming week, and an executive summary is already available on the Pathways website.

At the end of the talk, Hamilton announced the next step. He said that in early May, an implementation team will be created to facilitate discussions on how to address the challenges identified in the survey results. This group will identify tangible action that can be accomplished within a year. In the summer and early fall, discussion across the community, different working groups and committees will continue, and by fall 2017, a more long-term action plan will be disclosed to the Smith community.

On Thursday, McCartney sent out a letter to the community to inform the release of the report.  “These findings provide a powerful foundation for the work that lies ahead. The next step is to turn data into action, strengthening our community through intentional initiatives across the campus,” she said.