Working group formed in 2018 to implement climate survey for diversity

April 19, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on campus and plan for related strategic initiatives, Penn State has established a working group to implement the first University-wide climate survey focused on diversity for students and employees. The survey is expected to be administered at all campuses in spring 2020.

“Our goal is to give every member of the Penn State community an opportunity to share their experiences and ideas in this space, and ultimately help Penn State identify our strengths and areas for improvement and growth, based on the feedback of our community,” said Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity. “The data garnered from a survey of this scope and size will play an important role in further advancing the University’s values and strategic plan with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The results from the survey will be used to support a variety of new and ongoing University-wide initiatives that align with Penn State’s Strategic Plan to create a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, build a diverse student body and employee workforce, and develop curriculum that fosters cultural awareness and competencies, among other goals.

The University Climate Survey for Diversity Working Group, which has met five times since its formation in fall 2018, was charged with carrying out the initiative by Whitehurst and Lance Kennedy-Phillips, vice provost for planning and assessment, on behalf of Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones.

“I tasked this working group as part of our efforts to create a campus environment where students, faculty and staff members feel welcomed, safe and respected,” said Jones. “We’ve made positive changes on many fronts, but there’s more to do and we will continue to engage our campus community in these important conversations and efforts.”

This spring the working group is providing a variety of opportunities, including through an online form and small-group discussions, for students, faculty and staff to become involved and share feedback about potential topics and goals of the survey. Working group members are in the process of soliciting feedback and hosting sessions with a range of University communities, including the University Faculty Senate, University Park Undergraduate Association, Graduate and Professional Student Association, and Global Programs, among others.

To provide feedback about what you think the survey should prioritize, complete the online form by April 26.

In the coming months, using student, faculty and staff feedback, the group will work to identify priorities for the survey and will identify a national survey instrument that will engage all students and employees at every Penn State campus, including Penn State World Campus. Aligning with an existing national survey will provide benchmarking data, offer built-in analytics and support tools, and protect the confidentiality of survey respondents.

“The University is in need of new data to appropriately identify our strengths and challenges when it comes to advancing diversity and inclusive environments,” said Sonia DeLuca Fernández, working group co-chair and associate vice provost for Educational Equity. “By collecting baseline data and improving our knowledge of various challenges, we hope to make evidence-based decisions that will increase student and employee recruitment and retention, address equity gaps and better prepare Penn State students for participation in a diverse democracy.”

The survey potentially will ask questions to identify perspectives about how community members experience various campus environments; how the experiences of community members vary by race, sexual orientation or gender identity; how well the University engages in culturally relevant and responsible classroom practices; how well the University supports new employees, and more.

“For many years, various Penn State units have taken proactive and important steps to develop and administer their own diversity-related climate surveys, which have amassed valuable insight and information for specific groups. With this new survey, we’re hoping to refocus our collective energies to capture a broader and more holistic picture across the entire University,” said Karen Vance, working group co-chair and director of planning and analysis in the Office of Planning and Assessment. “This survey will put the philosophy of 'one University' into action and help us to look beyond individual colleges and campuses to identify overall trends and opportunities, while still allowing us to dig in and target specific needs.”

The 19-member working group is made up of a cross-section of faculty, staff and students from Penn State’s campuses who have expertise in quantitative analysis and diversity in higher education, including: 

  • Sonia DeLuca Fernández, co-chair, associate vice provost in the Office of Educational Equity   
  • Karen Vance, co-chair, director of planning and analysis in the Office of Planning and Assessment 
  • Katherine Allen, associate general counsel 
  • Adeah Anderson, undergraduate student, biobehavioral health
  • Jake Benfield, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Abington 
  • Dawn Blasko, executive director of the University Faculty Senate 
  • Carmen Borges, associate director of Affirmative Action 
  • Adam Christensen, director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment 
  • Niki Dickerson von Lockette, associate professor of labor and employment relations and African American studies 
  • Madhavi Kari, diversity and inclusion strategist in Penn State Human Resources 
  • Anthony Mitchell, associate teaching professor of African and African American studies and history at Penn State Greater Allegheny 
  • Daniel Newhart, assistant vice provost for planning 
  • Leticia Oseguera, associate professor of higher education 
  • Michael Polgar, associate professor of sociology at Penn State Hazleton 
  • Stephanie Danette Preston, assistant dean of the Graduate School 
  • Aubrey Waddick, graduate student, political science
  • Denita Wright Watson, academic program manager at Penn State Great Valley 
  • Stephanie Wehnau, director of the Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg 
  • Amy Salinas Westmoreland, director of assessment in the Office of Educational Equity

“The working group will choose the national survey instrument that is best equipped to provide the kinds of institutional and benchmarking data that will address our specific needs and goals,” said Kennedy-Phillips. “By customizing an existing survey, versus building our own, we will be able to focus our efforts on planning for and implementing programs and strategies that will advance the University’s values and help us be more inclusive and welcoming for our students and employees.”

After the survey is administered and results are shared, aggregate information will be analyzed to inform decision-making and strategic planning at the institutional level. Task forces and/or communities of practice will be established to lead specific initiatives, said DeLuca Fernández. In addition, unit-level data will be shared with individual departments to support their students, faculty and staff members’ specific needs. The Office of Educational Equity and the Office of Planning and Assessment will provide support and consultation to each area regarding the development of action plans based on results.

The University Climate Survey Working Group will continue to share progress and updates in the coming months. If you would like to request a session for your team with a working group member or have questions, contact Sonia DeLuca Fernández at szd197@psu.edu or Karen Vance at ksv21@psu.edu.

Last Updated June 21, 2019