CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has taken major strides toward creating a more welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff, but a recently completed Campus Climate Assessment suggests that the university's ambitions are still a work in progress.
Commissioned by OSU President Ed Ray and several campus groups, the assessment was a "reality check," said Beth Rietveld, director of the Women's Center. "The university has really done some good things," Rietveld said, "but when more than one out of three people say they have experienced some form of harassment, it is clear we have a ways to go. This assessment gives us some good ideas on where we need to focus our efforts."
Conducted with the help of a consulting firm, Rankin & Associates, the assessment was conducted last April (2004). Among the findings:
OSU President Ed Ray, who has pushed for stronger diversity initiatives since arriving on campus 18 months ago, said he is confident that the university is heading in the right direction and the self-commissioned report provides an "honest assessment of the challenges we face."
"It would be easy to say that OSU is facing the same challenges of those on nearly every campus in the country," Ray said. "Our concern is with Oregon State University.
Any effort to improve the climate and diversity on this campus must start with an honest assessment of what we are doing well, and what has to change.
"We can and will improve," Ray added, "and this report will help us create a blueprint for developing a more inclusive environment for all persons."
Terryl Ross, OSU's new director for Community and Diversity, is in the middle of preparing a major diversity action plan for the university, which should be completed by June. He said the Campus Climate Assessment symbolizes the university's openness and willingness to address diversity issues.
"In many ways, Oregon State University is way ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing diversity," Ross said. "First, we have a president who is absolutely committed and has made diversity one of his key priorities. Our campus is also in the midst of a major diversity campaign, from faculty hiring initiatives, to action plans for each of the colleges, to the establishment of a Pride Center and the hiring of a Community and Diversity director.
"This Campus Climate Assessment is part of a bigger picture that is still in progress," Ross said. "Yes, we have challenges. But the cupboard is definitely not bare at Oregon State University."
The survey included 736 students, 349 faculty and 154 staff members. Of the 1,289 respondents, 300 were people of color, 101 were identified as disabled, 115 were identified as a sexual minority, 839 were women, 426 were men, 34 were international, and 640 identified their spiritual affiliation as other than Christian.
The assessment report includes anecdotal experiences that may seem contradictory. One person wrote: "There is a serious need to address the dominance of Christianity - or at least Christian ideals and judgments - on this campus." Another person wrote: "While attending classes over the last few years, there (have) been several instances where my Christian beliefs have come under attack."
Diversity, Ross says, is complex.
"So many of the diversity-related issues are about perceptions or about what's beneath the surface," he said. "If we are to go forward as a university, we need to address them all. Arguing about whether or not there really is a problem is counterproductive because if the perception is there, then you have a problem."
Ross said the assessment points out that people of color often have different perceptions of the campus environment, and a wider range of experiences. One challenge in working on a predominately white campus, he said, is that people of color are asked to be on every search committee and task force, and to help educate the broad community on diversity issues.
"The intentions are good," he said, "but people just get burned out by it."
Rietveld said the assessment suggests to her that the university has many individual pieces in place - including cultural centers, minority education offices, the Women's Center, Services for Students with Disabilities and other programs - but coordination among those pieces needs improvement.
"What we seem to need," she said, "is a central place where all people can go with their problems, and a systematic way of informing each other with what is happening on campus."
The Campus Climate Assessment report will be available online Jan. 26 at: http://oregonstate.edu/president.
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Beth Rietveld, 541-737-1330