Campus climate forum lacks student attendance

Martino Harmon, senior vice president for Student Affairs, talks about the campus climate survey results. The open forum was Feb. 12 in Carver Hall. 

Emily Berch

Three thousand, nine hundred and thirty-nine undergraduate students participated in the campus climate survey, according to the campus climate survey final report. In an open forum regarding the university’s response to the survey, no students offered input.

The Campus Climate Undergraduate Student Experience Committee hosted an open forum Tuesday night, seeking input from students as it develops responses to the survey results. One undergraduate student was in attendance and left midway through the forum.

Aside from the one undergraduate student, the audience included an intern seeking to learn more about campus life at Iowa State and members of the Undergraduate Student Experience Committee and the Iowa State Daily Media Group.

Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Martino Harmon, who chairs the Undergraduate Student Experience Committee, said he believes people will come forward if they have comments for the workgroup but focus groups the workgroup conducted throughout the semester have provided sufficient feedback for it to move forward.

The workgroup conducted focus groups throughout the fall and spring semesters based on the survey results.

Dean of Students Vernon Hurte, a co-chair of the workgroup, said the climate response is an ongoing effort, and he plans to continue conducting focus groups, including one with the Veteran Center on Wednesday. Hurte also said he has met with leadership from the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success and Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity, among other organizations.

“We want students to recognize that when you talk about campus climate, we’re taking snapshots – a series of snapshots, and we’re connecting those, so this is one snapshot that’s going to help energize and guide what our ongoing efforts are, and we’ll take another snapshot in a couple years, and that’s how you continue the work,” Hurte said.

Harmon said he had hoped Tuesday’s forum would function as another focus group, but low turnout prevented that.

“Tonight was actually designed, in essence, to be another focus group,” Harmon said. “We just didn’t have the audience here, but we weren’t just here to present. We were hoping to get feedback, but we didn’t get the turnout.”

Before the forum was open for discussion, the committee chairs presented themes from the survey results that have shaped their recommendations so far. The workgroup plans to submit these recommendations to President Wendy Wintersteen in mid-March.

During the presentation, Harmon said the top four bases upon which students indicated they experienced exclusionary conduct were “gender and identity, ethnicity, racial identity and political views.” Harmon also noted most of this conduct happened on campus.

Harmon said another major theme from the survey was “concerns about sense of belonging.”

According to the survey results, 22 percent of undergraduate student respondents, 872 students, indicated they “had seriously considered leaving Iowa State University.” Fifty-one percent of those students selected “lack of a sense of belonging” as a reason for considering leaving.

Harmon said undergraduate students indicated climate could be improved by “cross-cultural dialogue,” and students with disabilities said they faced challenged with facilities, technology, participation in surveys, instructional campus materials, mobility, receiving accommodations and access to various services, such as mental health.

These results, which Hurte said were apparent in the workgroup’s campus engagement as well as the climate data, influenced one theme for their recommendations: enhancing a sense of belonging.

Hurte said one major factor in achieving a greater sense of belonging on campus is accessibility.

“This came up among a number of different students and really across different intersection of identity,” Hurte said.

To increase accessibility, one recommendation aims to make it easier for students to navigate campus. Hurte referenced the MyState app as one avenue for this. The app currently allows users to search for “accessible doors,” automatic doors, accessible parking and van accessible parking on campus.

Hurte said the workgroup wants to continue to enhance options on the app’s map and other campus maps by allowing people to find gender-neutral bathrooms.

The second preliminary recommendation based in the theme of enhancing belonging is to “enhance the quantity and quality of images on campus, which reflect the vast diversity of our campus.”

Hurte said being able to “see representation of one’s identity in the space” will help students to feel like they belong at Iowa State and can be achieved through initiatives such as increasing funding for cultural art, murals across campus, photos of historic figures and publications and websites that highlight different cultures and languages across campus.

Hurte also highlighted campus initiatives introduced during the past six years to enhance diversity and inclusion, including the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion office, the Iowa State Police Department creating inclusion and engagement officers and the NCORE-ISCORE office creation, among other efforts.

The workgroup’s other theme for recommendations focused on increasing and improving training throughout the university.

“We know that training takes place sporadically, in different pockets, in different departments,” Harmon said. “We have orientation courses on campus that really don’t have a consistent curriculum or a consistent theme, so really there isn’t a consistency in the training that’s being offered.”

To address this, the workgroup is proposing a “new student onboarding project”

Associate Provost for Academic Programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden, another co-chair of the Undergraduate Student Experience Committee, said a “robust and consistent” kind of training is important for students.

“What we did is we looked at how students are onboarded at Iowa State, and what we found is, although we have pockets where it’s going very well, we have other places where we really aren’t providing the support and the onboarding that we need to for our students,” VanDerZanden said.

VanDerZanden also discussed a program by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), which focuses on helping faculty develop an inclusive classroom environment, including “resources focused on language in the syllabus, creating a learner-centered environment and things that faculty members can do to improve the inclusion and the environment in their classroom.”

VanDerZanden also said CELT is partnering with the provost’s office and Faculty Senate to redesign the courses that can fulfill students’ diversity requirements.

Harmon also said the workgroup is joining the Faculty Experience Committee in support of the Cy for Civility campaign, which will focus on “how we should and must treat each other as members of the campus community.”

The forum can be viewed on the Iowa State Student Affairs’s YouTube page, and students who wish to provide feedback on the recommendations can contact Student Affairs.