University of Wisconsin Survey: Fewer Underrepresented Students Feel Welcome - Higher Education
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University of Wisconsin Survey: Fewer Underrepresented Students Feel Welcome

by Todd Richmond, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis — Minority, disabled and gay students say they’re having a tougher time surviving on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus than most students, according to a survey the university released Wednesday.

The survey found about 80 percent of student respondents said they often felt welcome and respected at UW-Madison. However, only 65 percent of students of color, 67 percent of disabled students, 69 percent of LGBT students and 50 percent of transgender and nonbinary students – those who don’t identify as either sex – said they felt welcome.

About 11 percent of students reported experiencing incidents of hostile, harassing or intimidating behavior directed at them. Female students, students of color, LGBT students, students with a disability and students who identify as transgender or nonbinary were more likely to report being involved in such incidents.

UW-Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement and the UW Survey Center conducted the survey in fall 2016, with about 21 percent of the university’s 42,000 students completing the survey online.

First-generation, international, transfer, Muslim and Buddhist students as well as students from a working class background reported a less positive campus climate. White and politically conservative students were more likely to feel respected and welcome, the survey found.

A little more than 1 in 4 students reported feeling expected to represent the point of view of their identity in class. Forty percent reported that was a negative experience.

The Campus Climate Survey Task Force, a group of 20 faculty, staff and students, reviewed the survey results from June through October. The task force issued a report Monday summarizing the survey and offering recommendations for improving campus climate.

One calls for improving campus safety by identifying issues that make students feel unsafe. The UW-Madison Police Department has launched a sexual assault awareness campaign, the school has increased the number of counselors for students and has launched programs to train bystanders to intervene in high-risk drinking situations, the report noted.

Another recommendation calls for improving responses to hate and bias incidents to communicate a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion. The report mentions that UW-Madison has developed a website to track bias incidents and increased the number of diversity-related experiences for campus leaders.

The school also should increase the number of faculty, staff and students from underrepresented groups and improve graduation rates for underrepresented students. The report said the school has already implemented the Badger Promise, a program that guarantees free tuition for first-generation students who transfer to UW-Madison from two-year schools, and has increased funding for recruiting and retaining faculty from underrepresented groups.

Courtney Morrison, press office director for Associated Students of Madison, the university’s student government arm, said the organization looks forward to using the survey results to direct efforts to build a “more inclusive and safe campus environment.”

No one replied to an email message at UW-Madison’s LGBT Campus Center.

The university was dogged by a string of racially tinged incidents in recent years, including a swastika taped to a Jewish student’s door and a student of color receiving a threatening note. The university created a diversity program for incoming freshmen students in response, but Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the survey wasn’t motivated by the incidents.

Blank and Vice Provost Patrick Sims, who doubles as the school’s chief diversity officer, told reporters during a conference call that they’ve long known underrepresented students can struggle on campus but the survey will hopefully generate conversations.

“We don’t see (the survey) as a call to start a whole bunch of new programs,” Blank said. “It’s a call to make sure what we’ve initiated is working well. It’s a call to the entire campus to say there are people here who feel left out.”

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