Diversity Climate Surveys: Worth the
By Pat Disterhoft, associate professor of education;
Debbie Giunta, director, Center for Cultural Fluency;
and Arianne Walker, director,
Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, all
of Mount St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, California.
Mount St. Mary’s College
Aimed at fostering an environment that values and embraces
all forms of diversity, Mount St. Mary’s College,
a Catholic liberal arts college in Los Angeles, wanted
to take a snapshot of the campus climate for diversity
to inform ongoing and future efforts. We decided to
conduct a comprehensive assessment of the campus diversity
climate for students, faculty, staff, and administrators.
Prior to embarking on this ambitious project, we had
only limited data from previous student surveys. The
survey project discussed in this article was intended
as a baseline—to help us see what we are already
doing well and where we need to make changes. Though
painful at times, our evaluation efforts were well worth
Survey Development and Rollout
Developing the survey took a long time. In fact, the
coordinator of the survey effort once remarked in frustration,
“I might not have embarked on this project if
I had known how long it would take.” A committee
of four that included the coordinator of the CDI grant,
the assistant provost, an external evaluation consultant,
and a representative from institutional research and
assessment began by exploring climate surveys from other
institutions. Using these as models, each member developed
questions to be asked. The most difficult part was paring
down the number of questions. We spent hours, nursed
headaches, and argued during this process. Eventually,
we used the theoretical framework developed by Hurtado
and her colleagues (1999) to consolidate the questions
and make sure we addressed three of Hurtado’s
dimensions: structural diversity, psychological climate,
and behavioral/intergroup campus climate. We maintained
regular communication with the college administration
even at this early stage because we understood how integral
their buy-in and support would be.
Buy-in from campus administration
is critical to
being able to ask the questions that need to be
asked and to mobilize the campus to think about
changes based on the
Almost a year into the process we had surveys to pilot.
We were aware of the importance of piloting and made
some changes based on the feedback we received. In retrospect,
one of our errors was not listening carefully enough
to the feedback from the pilots. Practically every suggestion
that we did not heed resurfaced in the final survey
results. For example, in an effort to be sure our results
were valid, we asked variations of questions multiple
times. However, the resulting length of the survey frustrated
A newly formed diversity committee proved to be an
asset in the development and rollout of the survey.
Several members of the committee were involved in piloting
the survey, and others translated the survey into Spanish
for staff. Committee members also helped by generating
interest in the survey and assisted with advertising.
Because they were fairly representative of our various
college constituencies, we were satisfied with the survey
response rates: 22 percent from students, 30 percent
from faculty, and 43 percent from staff/administration,.
The external evaluator and the director of institutional
research worked together to make sense of the massive
amount of data. As an analytical team, their collaboration
enabled them to catch small errors, talk through ambiguities,
and conduct in-depth analyses. A report of the results
was written for each of the primary college constituents:
students, faculty, and staff. These summaries were powerful
in part because they focused only on statistically significant
differences between sub-groups of the campus population.
Each report, no longer than six pages, began with highlights
and challenges in bulleted format and included comprehensible
graphs and charts of findings.
The reports and their PowerPoint summaries were presented
for review and refinement to the CDI steering committee
and the President’s Cabinet. Next, the results
were disseminated to the entire campus community through
presentations, an email summary, the campus Web site,
and articles in various campus publications. We learned
that by highlighting our successes, people were prepared
to accept our challenges.
- Increased attention to diversity issues:
In addition to more informal conversations about diversity,
various campus groups, including Human Resources,
Residence Life and Psychological Services, have already
developed programs to address issues identified in
the surveys as needing attention, such as cross-cultural
communication and sexual orientation issues. In the
year ahead, we anticipate that more events and workshops
will be planned to respond to challenges identified
by the survey.
- Empowered voices: Those who are
committed to diversity issues, including such issues
as fairness and representation, can speak with authority
now that survey results confirm the desire and need
- Cultural change: There is the perception
that the college already has become more open and
communicative. We will be able to measure whether
this perception persists with the next administration
of the survey.
- Appreciation for surveys: People
have gained a new respect for what can be achieved
with surveys and with having hard data.
- It’s worth the effort: data are compelling.
- Buy-in from campus administration is critical
to being able to ask the questions that need to be
asked and to mobilize the campus to think about changes
based on the survey results.
- A theoretical framework is useful for survey
- Pay attention to all feedback from
the pilot survey.
- Disseminating survey results to the campus
community should be timely and done in a variety of
attractive and accessible ways. Making detailed
reports available is essential, but so are briefer
summary e-mails and articles.
For copies of the Diversity Climate Surveys, please
contact Arianne Walker, Ph. D., Director of Institutional
Research and Assessment, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a model of how to write up survey results attractively
or view our survey results, visit www.msmc.la.edu/
Hurtado, Sylvia, Jeffrey Milem, Alma Clayton-Pedersen
and Walter Allen. 2000. Enacting diverse learning
environments: Improving the climate for racial/ethnic
diversity in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.