Campus climate town halls held as part of diversity initiative

To improve campus climate, a new initiative called “Truth and Reconciliation at Lawrence: Enhancing Trust, Empathy and Learning on Campus” was introduced by Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty Kimberly Barrett this fall. The initiative started with two campus climate town halls held in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. The first was on Thursday, Sep. 20 at 11 a.m., and the second was on Tuesday, Sep. 25 at 7 p.m.

“I think it was a good kickoff,” said Barrett about the first campus climate town hall. The first town hall was attended mostly by faculty and staff and went over the findings of the campus climate survey done in the spring of last year.

The main issues that were found in the campus climate survey were accessibility, improving relationships between Appleton and Lawrence and respecting others with different ideas. “The most significant interpersonal stressor,” said Barrett, “was workload and not having enough time.”

Safety was another significant issue that the campus climate survey brought up. “The issue of safety was really a differentiator for different groups,” stated Barrett. Safety at night and in Appleton at night was significantly more of a concern for marginalized groups. “African-American individuals in particular,” said Barrett. “Over half of them felt unsafe at night in Appleton.”

While the survey did highlight problems on campus, there were good responses as well. “The main thing I want to do,” affirmed Barrett, “is have people experience what different groups experience based on their identity.” Compared to past surveys, more people knew how to report a bias incident or make other reports.

One problem that Barrett noticed with many of the attempts to change campus climate was that only a few students would show up to events such as the cultural competency lectures. “Even when we have student presenters, we don’t get a lot of students,” said Barrett.

“I think really its student word of mouth,” stated Barrett about how to get students more engaged. “I think students could really benefit” from attending more of the events geared towards improving campus climate. In the past some cultural competency lectures have been recorded and posted online, and Barrett mentioned possibly going back to this approach.

“We’re looking to try different ways to get students involved. I think you have to have multiple options for getting people involved,” continued Barrett. The findings of the campus climate survey will eventually be online.

There will be focus groups for those who might have been underrepresented on the survey. Specific students will be invited to share about their experiences in these focus groups “when you invite specific people,” stated Barrett, “they’re more likely to come.”

“We’ve done campus climate surveys for different individual segments of the community,” affirmed Barrett, but this has been survey for the entire Lawrence community. Having data about how the Lawrence community experiences life here is crucial for making it better.

According to Barrett, starting with comprehensive data from the campus climate survey is what set this project apart from previous attempts to improve campus climate. The truth and reconciliation initiative aims to take this data and apply it to helping the campus heal. “There’s really a breakdown of trust between various groups on campus,” said Barrett, “and I think this truth telling can be a way to build trust again.”

The next upcoming event related to this is a cultural competency lecture called “Smash the Binary” which will be presented by Instructor of Gender Studies Helen Boyd Kramer. This talk about gender inclusive language will be given in the Mead Witter room in Warch Campus Center on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 11:15 a.m.