Education

Iowa State finds gaps based on race, gender, status in climate survey

'Racism exists. Sexism exists. These things exist here'

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Nearly one in five of the 7,326 faculty, staff, and students who responded to an Iowa State University climate survey in the fall reported experiencing exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, or hostile behavior based on ethnicity, gender, identity, or position status.

For faculty, much of that involved hostile colleagues or supervisors, negative work environments, and criticism of the school’s harassment reporting process. For students, it involved hostility toward political conservatives and woman, discrimination based on race and ethnicity, and sexual harassment.

When looking specifically at unwanted sexual conduct, findings from the new ISU survey — which administrators unveiled via two open forums Wednesday — showed 11 percent, or 770, experienced unwanted sexual contact while at Iowa State. A vast majority, 80 to 90 percent, didn’t report the incidents, according to the survey, which comes amid cultural unrest across the country.

“Climate matters. It matters for everyone on campus,” said Dan Merson, executive associate and senior research associate for Rankin & Associates Consulting, which Iowa State agreed to pay $115,880 to facilitate the survey.

Merson noted The “Black Lives Matter” and “#MeToo” movements, along with political divisions and other social and cultural issues, have infiltrated university and college campuses — making awareness and action toward inclusion and a comfortable climate imperative.

“As we’ve seen, higher education is a microcosm of the general American society,” he said. “Racism exists. Sexism exists. … These things exist here. They’re happening here.”

But, Merson said, “If you acknowledge it, that is much different from just ignoring it or discounting it.”

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Public and private universities across the country have been acknowledging and addressing climate issues of late, including University of Iowa, which last month unveiled findings from a survey it conducted in the fall specific to sexual violence.

That survey — with a response rate of nearly 7,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students — found 17.2 percent of female undergraduates reported being raped since enrolling.

Iowa State likewise in 2014 participated in an Association of American Universities study of campus sex assault, which found 1 in 10 ISU students experienced some sort of unwanted sexual misconduct during their collegiate experience. More than 19 percent of ISU female undergraduates reported being the victim of nonconsensual sex or touching by force or incapacitation, according to that survey.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights for years has been investigating alleged Title IX violations at both Iowa State and UI, with three open cases currently at each — including ones related to sexual violence and race-, gender-, and disability-based discrimination.

The schools also have faced lawsuits alleging climate-related wrongs.

The new climate survey Iowa State unveiled Wednesday went far beyond sexual violation and racial discrimination. It looked at overall attitudes, faculty pay satisfaction, classroom environment, and work-life balance.

It found experiences differed widely depending on gender identity, race, and status.

Where 83 percent of white respondents felt “comfortable” or “very comfortable” with the overall ISU climate, 67 percent of those identifying as “respondents of color” felt that way. Just 16 percent of respondents identifying as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or queer said they were “very comfortable” with the overall climate.

Among faculty, 38 percent said they felt comfortable with the climate in their department or work unit, and 43 percent of staff said so. About 54 percent of all faculty respondents and 50 percent of all staff respondents said they had seriously considered leaving the university in the past year, according to the findings.

Among those who considered leaving, 53 percent of staff and 47 percent of faculty did so because of low salary or pay.

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ISU President Wendy Wintersteen earlier this week told The Gazette improving faculty compensation is a top priority, as the university skipped mandatory pay raises last year in response to state budget cuts and then saw the highest number of faculty resignations in 2017.

On Wednesday, Wintersteen said the campus is going to continue hosting discussions about its climate findings by, among other things, creating four action teams charged with developing plans to implement change based on the findings.

But one of only a few students in the audience criticized the university’s release of the data — which comes days after graduation and after most students have left campus.

“You scheduled this supposedly important event to happen after students leave,” said ISU graduate student Wesley Harris. “As a student and one of three in the room, it’s wrong.”

He noted 4,000 students took the time to complete the survey.

“I think that lack of response is indicative of our frustration with the institution,” he said. “This institution has not been responsive to students, especially those of us who are racial and ethnic minorities.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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