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Campus Climate and Intergroup Relations

Challenge 1: Developing a Shared and Inclusive Understanding of Diversity

Review of the definitions of diversity across the University indicates that most units have developed and put into place a unit-wide definition of diversity and that definitions have become more comprehensive and inclusive, encompassing populations beyond race and gender. Units are making more purposeful efforts to publicize and distribute the definition of diversity and otherwise foster a shared understanding of diversity.

While units may have broad and inclusive definitions of diversity, these definitions are not always apparent in a similarly broad array of programming, curricula, and other initiatives, as well as assessment methods and identification of best practices. While it is true that progress tends to be data driven, the range of emphasis should extend beyond populations for which data are most easily gathered (i.e., race/ ethnicity, gender) to include additional diverse populations that are reflected in the unit's definition of diversity (e.g., LGBT people; those with disabilities; veterans; low-income, first-generation students; adult learners; those with dependent-care responsibilities; etc.).

A wider array of communication strategies, utilizing both traditional and newer technologies, is used to disseminate information and resources for diversity, and such information has become more prominently displayed on unit Web sites.

Most units now have an active diversity committee, the scope and responsibility of which has increased significantly over the past two planning periods. Many committees not only produce programming and coordinate events, but also are actively involved in Framework planning, implementation, and reporting activities in conjunction with the unit executive.

The role of the college multicultural officer has also expanded. While this structure has been in place for more than two decades, several colleges have enhanced the position, giving the multicultural officer increased access to and involvement with college administration; in several cases to date, the position has a seat on the dean's executive council (a structural change relevant to Challenge 7). In four cases to date, the position has been upgraded to the level of assistant/associate dean. To maximize effectiveness, attention should be given to increasing the capacity of individuals in these positions through access to professional development opportunities and appropriate resources to support fulfilling increased expectations and accountability. The multicultural officers have traditionally collaborated with and now are convened by the vice provost for Educational Equity as part of the Administrative Council on Multicultural Affairs (ACMA).

While these changes are positive, more work can be done to ensure that diversity councils and multicultural officers have adequate resources and recognition for their work and that multicultural officer position descriptions are more consistent across colleges.

Targeted Areas for Improvement:

  • Use multiple communication formats with a combination of traditional and cutting-edge technologies to share diversity information, goals, and accomplishments throughout the unit and across all constituencies, including students, faculty, staff, administration, alumni, the wider Penn State community, and external constituents.
  • Increase the responsibilities and influence of the unit diversity committee. Ensure that committees have a proactive, well-defined mission, with an open line of communication established with the budget executive for making appropriate policy recommendations, and use a variety of approaches in their work and communication. Ensure that committee membership is representative of all stakeholders, including students, senior faculty, unit administration, and staff and that committees receive appropriate resources and recognition for their work.
  • Increase the responsibilities and influence of the college multicultural officer position, providing adequate resources, including access to college administration leadership. Support efforts to develop a consistent set of responsibilities, organizational structure, expectations, and accountability for the position.
  • Align the range of programming, curricular and co-curricular offerings, programmatic and structural initiatives, assessment, identification of intergroup disparities, and other activities across all of the Challenges with the unit's broad and inclusive definition of diversity. - Actively demonstrate support of and adherence to Penn State's nondiscrimination policy.

Challenge 2: Creating a Welcoming Campus Climate

Units gather information and data about climate in a variety of ways. These methods include informal town-hall-style discussions, discussions over meals, focus groups, and formal surveys. Intervention and response strategies also vary. Many units have implemented a campus response team of some type to monitor and respond to acts of intolerance or "chilly" climate issues. Most interventions involve key administrators who are in a position to take action and mobilize resources for swift and appropriate responses. Many of our campuses have developed collaborations to extend efforts to create a welcoming climate into their surrounding communities, and such efforts are encouraged.

A number of units have conducted diversity climate assessments to gather information about experiences and perceptions of climate within the unit. Results are useful in determining areas of emphasis within the unit and in gauging progress. While surveys can be useful, additional means of gathering climate information on a more regular and ongoing basis are also necessary and allow for climate to be considered with finer degrees of distinction.

At the University level, the 2004 Faculty/Staff Survey, commissioned by the Office of the President and coordinated by the Penn State Office of Human Resources, included a section of diversity questions for the first time in the survey's history. The 2008 survey continued this initiative, thus building upon the baseline data.

The Faculty/Staff Survey results provide some insight into this Challenge. The 2008 results indicate that 77 percent of respondents agree that the workplace climate in their department/unit is welcoming to employees from underrepresented groups, up from 72 percent in 2004. As noted in the executive summary of the 2008 results, the topic "Climate for Diversity in Dept/Unit" has the second most positive topic result among topics related to working environment, with a 73 percent favorable response, following work/life balance with a 75 percent positive response. Most notably, the Engagement Model analysis reveals that one of the five strongest correlates of desired outcomes of engagement is "Climate for Diversity in Department/Unit." Appendix D provides more detailed results. 17

We have made some notable advances toward this Challenge. Penn State was listed among the top twenty "Best of the Best" schools in the nation in The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students 18 and ranked among the top five LGBT-friendly campuses in the nation by Campus Pride. 19 Our LGBTA Student Resource Center is a national model among its peers. Another often invisible population is that of people with disabilities. As revealed in the Framework review, initiatives for persons with disabilities tended to focus on physical access issues for students; however, accessible buildings are mandated by federal law. More comprehensive programming for and about students, faculty, and staff with disabilities is needed. During the spring 2008 semester, the Disability Advisory Group was formed to address a broad range of issues related to Penn State students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. Another population with specialized needs is adult learners. Several Penn State campuses and outreach centers emphasize adult learners and workforce education opportunities.

Targeted Areas for Improvement:

  • Develop and maintain systematic climate assessment processes and initiate unit-wide approaches for proactively addressing climate concerns and for comprehensive response to incidents. Utilize the results of the 2008 Faculty/Staff Survey and initiate unit-specific assessment processes to probe more deeply into climate issues within the unit and to guide climate improvement initiatives.
  • Maintain high visibility of diversity resources.
  • Promote an atmosphere where differing strengths can be recognized and valued. Some examples of actions that support a positive climate for diversity and contribute to the success of the Framework are initiating training for diversity skill building among faculty, staff, and students; including diversity expertise as a criterion in search processes; and being mindful of implications for diversity and climate in all decision-making processes.
  • Promote ideals that regard diversity as a strength and a necessity for unit success.


Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity
314 Old Main,
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814) 865-5906, Fax: (814) 865-3997