Campus Climate Committee to join Commission on Diversity

by Mar 4, 2013 5:23 pm Tags: , , , ,

The Campus Climate Committee was recently closed after almost 20 years, and moved into the commission on diversity which will have a more comprehensive focus on what's happening on campus, according to Dorothy Poole, SJSU chief of staff.

Wiggsy Sivertsen, a professor and counselor at SJSU, was the latest chair for the committee before it's closing.

She said the committee looked at issues on the campus in terms of classes, how students were being treated or addressed, and issues of cultural diversity to try to address and improve these areas.

Poole said the new commission on diversity is a committee appointed by the president, and has four components — institutional viability and vitality, education and scholarship, access and success and campus climate. 

There has not been a campus announcement, but she said the plan is to make the transition happen in March or April.

“Our intention is that the new diversity website launches and the commission is communicated to the campus at the same time,” Poole said.  “So that they can be directed to go to the website and find out more information.”

Poole said the diversity website is being revitalized to capture historical data, and provide central context for students and faculty to find out whats happening on campus that is diversity-related.

SJSU president Mohammad Qayoumi reached out to the campus community through an email, inviting students to respond to a voluntary campuswide survey assessing the climate for promoting personal and social responsibilities.

Sivertsen said the purpose of closing the Campus Climate Committee was to centralize things.

“There’s a thing over here that deals with diversity and one over there, and they are not connected," she said.  "The president wanted to bring things into an umbrella all under one committee.”

She said she hopes the new committee will help people understand the need to embrace the diversity around campus and each other.

“You know a lot of this stuff is educational,” Sivertsen said.  “We have to find a better way to communicate these things to students.”

Siversten said the most significant things the Campus Climate Committee has done in the last few years was focus group research, with a summary report done by Susan Murray, an associate professor in sociology.

Murray said she joined the committee to do focus group research that explored experiences of campus climate through the lens of race, gender, sexuality and rank. The reports can be found on her webpage.

She said the committee wasn't necessarily “shut down,” but transformed and put into a newly named committee, which has a similar approach and goals.

“These reports are good news for SJSU,” Murray said. “People really are trying to get at these issues.”

The focus groups worked with students, faculty and staff to identify where racism, heterosexism, sexism and power relations reside on campus.

Murray said that everything going on at SJSU relating to issues on diversity is also going on around the nation.

She said she worked on the campus climate focus group research project for 2011 and 2012.

“The goal of the campus climate focus group research project was to explore, in more depth, the experiences of those groups of people for whom our campus falls short of our goals for inclusivity,” according to the executive summary of the focus group research project.

The study collected data from 13 different focus groups, such as African-American groups, Latinos, gays, lesbians and women, according to the final report of the Campus Climate focus group research project, which Murray prepared.

The surveys indicate that "most faculty, staff, and student report favorable or somewhat favorable perceptions of campus climate at SJSU."

However, the study also showed that women found the campus more sexist than men, the gay, lesbian and bisexual community found campus more homophobic than heterosexual persons, and people of color experienced more discrimination based on race than white people.

Sivertsen said she is hopeful that SJSU can raise awareness to educate people on ways to treat situations and try to limit exclusion based on diversity.

“This is one of the most difficult things we do as human beings,” she said. “How do we embrace each other in their differences, and how do we leave room for people to express their differences because they enrich us, rather than looking at them as something that impoverishes us? I just hope one day we’ll get there.”

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