Important Ideas and Next Steps: Perceptions of Campus Climate

A toolkit series to guide UMass community members in understanding, interpreting, reflecting on, and responding to findings of the 2021 Campus Climate Survey

Important Ideas: Equity-Minded Data Analysis

When reflecting on this climate data, it is crucial to intentionally apply an equity lens throughout our inquiry. While equality focuses on everyone having an identical experience, equity asks, “what does each unique individual or group need in order to have equitable access to resources and opportunities for success?” This mode of thinking focuses on both recognizing patterns of inequitable outcomes and getting curious about the attitudes, assumptions, and actions that might be contributing to those patterns. Building individual and collective awareness of the ways that systemic inequity shapes data is a necessary first step towards challenging and disrupting the underlying cultural factors at play.

In the process of equity-minded sense-making, we shift our tendency to move immediately from data to action-oriented ‘improvement plans’. Instead, we open up a space between information and action to ask questions that lead us to the heart of the “WHY”.

Some equity-minded inquiries might include:

  • Who is represented in this data? Who is not? Why?
  • How might my own identities, experiences, assumptions, and/or biases contribute to my interpretation of the data?
  • Whose experiences and perspectives should we learn more about to understand this data more deeply? What else do we need to know, and how will we access that information?
  • Are there barriers in our practices, policies, and systems? What root causes might explain the outcomes we are observing?
  • Who and what should be prioritized to improve equity?

Important Ideas: Multiplicity of Truths

When engaging with data regarding perceptions of campus climate, it may be tempting to dismissively equate “perception” with “opinion”, especially when confronted with information that does not feel reflective of our own lived experience. The waters get even murkier when the data involves or evokes emotions, which mainstream U.S. culture often treats as less meaningful or valuable than more objective forms of quantitative data. One challenge we may encounter when engaging with the Campus Climate Survey results is our openness to a multiplicity of truths – a recognition that perception IS reality, and that multiple realities can and do co-exist. 

Of course, in an ideal world, all members of our campus community would have similarly positive perceptions of the campus climate. But our perceptions of and attitudes about the social settings we inhabit are shaped by our varied – and sometimes inequitable – lived experiences, including our interactions with other members of the campus community. It is crucial to recognize the minoritized groups whose experiences fall outside of the aggregate norms, because there are valuable stories and insights that reside there. What might we learn if we attune to the margins instead of the center?

If your personal experience hews closely to the campus mean, consider this an invitation to practice seeking to understand, before seeking to be understood. One gift of this climate data is the opportunity to practice sitting with truths that differ from our own, but are equally as real for those who inhabit them.

What would it look like to prioritize the needs of the most marginalized among us? To invest in the work of equity and justice is to remember that inclusion hurts no one, and that all ships rise with the tide.

Continued Opportunities for Learning & Engagement

Equity-Minded Data Analysis:

Multiplicity of Truths:

Campus Climate:

Take Action: Reporting Options

It can often be challenging to discern between an incident of mistreatment, an expression of outright bias, or a hurtful misunderstanding. What will always be clear, however, is how the situation makes us feel – and its very real impact on whether or not we feel accepted, supported, and valued. One way to take action when you experience or observe this type of occurrence is to submit a bias incident report. Reports not only allow UMass to offer resources and support to those directly involved, but also help to identify community-wide patterns and growth areas.

Report an incident of bias or discrimination

Additional Reporting Options