Campus climate and diversity issues : listening to students
Skelly, Mary Elizabeth Anne
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Our colleges and universities do not exist in a vacuum and, thus, the responsibility of higher education professionals to assure an accepting, supportive environment for all students is paramount. The first step toward achieving true pluralism on any college campus is to discover what the current campus climate for diversity is. Through listening to individuals, qualitative methods can allow the researcher to hear diverse perspectives that quantitative methods might likely miss. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the experiences and perceptions of students at Montana State University-Bozeman (MSU-Bozeman) in order to assess the current campus climate, specifically with regard to diversity issues. The research design was a qualitative phenomenology triangulated with document analysis. The study focused on the phenomenon of campus climate as experienced by the students who were interviewed. Individual interviews performed during the 1997-98 academic year and supplemented with university-level document analysis allowed for comparison of student perceptions and University intentions and actions. A total of 68 undergraduate students who were enrolled for the 1997-98 academic year responded to open-ended interviews. These included students who identified themselves as African American (8), Asian American (12), Caucasian American (24), Hispanic American (12), and Native American (12). Findings include a brief overview of results for each of the student groups involved in the study, which highlight the differences among student groups. A discussion of the implications for practice tied to the improvement of general campus climate is included; these implications stem from the shared experiences across all groups of students interviewed and, thus, would improve not only the general campus climate for the entire student body, but at the same time also improve the campus climate for diversity. Finally, a discussion of specific implications for practice related to improving the campus climate for diversity is included. These recommendations are based on the experiences of each of the groups of students interviewed, the document analysis completed, and the review of the literature regarding the study of campus climate.