Is It Time for a Campus Climate Survey?

May 10, 2017

Given the recent change in the political environment around Title IX, many higher education institutions are wondering: “What’s next?” While we may not yet be able to assess the legislative agenda, administrators are always in a position to assess the atmosphere at their own institutions through a campus climate survey. Whether you have conducted a climate survey in the past, or have yet to do one, this article offers guidance on the steps your school can take.

Obtain Buy-In From Key Stakeholders

A campus climate survey is an important part of evaluating where you are as an institution on the subject of sexual harassment/sexual assault. While most institutions focus on student attitudes, these issues affect all members of the campus community. It is important to obtain early buy-in from senior leadership including the president, provost, HR, vice presidents, deans, department chairs, and student government. Having the support of various leaders across campus makes it easier to promote the survey and generate increased participation from faculty, staff, and students. 

Identify Key Themes and Structure 

In conducting a survey, institutions should seek to get a sense of the general university climate, as well as attitudes related to Title IX issues. Topics could include asking whether the individual feels valued as a member of the community or feels safe on campus, perception as to how the university responds to Title IX matters, familiarity with procedures for reporting incidents of sexual harassment/sexual assault, and understanding of policies and procedures related to sexual harassment. You could also expand your survey to explore other areas of harassment/discrimination including age, race, religion, disabilities, etc. 

Be respectful of people’s time. Ideally, a survey instrument should take about 30-45 minutes to complete. Allow at least two weeks for completion.

Publicize the Survey and Share Results

Be transparent in communicating to your campus about the upcoming survey. While assessing your campus climate is a best practice and usually required by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights as part of its resolution agreements, make sure that your community knows this is about more than “checking a box.” This is the time to show everyone affiliated with the institution, past, present, and future, that you are committed to making positive changes around these issues. Use promotional events, website and email announcements, and department and residence life meetings to spread word about the survey and its purpose.

Once the survey is completed, don’t be reluctant to share and discuss the results with faculty, staff, and students. Demonstrate commitment to changing the dialogue around these important issues by sharing the results with all members of the campus community including president’s council, provost’s council, HR committees, faculty meetings, and campus town hall forums. 

While the thought of receiving less than stellar results may be difficult to digest and even more difficult to discuss, engaging all members of the campus ecosystem in conversation about campus climate change is always a good thing and there is never a bad time to start.

By David Sipusic, JD, solutions consultant