CU undergraduate climate survey results
For full survey results, visit colorado.edu/studentsuccess.
65 percent very often felt welcome
75 percent very often felt intellectually stimulated
60 percent very often felt
46 percent felt course instructors challenged offensive comments
20 percent felt offensive comments often were ignored or left unchallenged by instructors
37 percent often saw themselves reflected in course examples
16 percent heard students make derogatory comments about women
22 percent heard students make derogatory comments about people with conservative political beliefs
8 percent of African-American students agreed that CU was a diverse campus
26 percent of African-American students felt valued on campus
38 percent of African-American students felt like they belonged on campus
Source: University of Colorado
Less than half of undergraduates — and only a quarter of African-American students — feel valued and supported at the University of Colorado, according to the "sobering" results of the campus's most recent climate survey.
The survey, which was administered in the fall of 2014 and reflects responses from 18 percent of the undergraduate student body on the Boulder campus, or about 4,500 students, prompted a call to action from Chancellor Phil DiStefano and his cabinet on Thursday.
"These results tell us while many students are happy, we have work to do to make sure all of our student feel welcome and valued," DiStefano said in a video message. "This is not just a national issue. It exists here, in our community, and we will own it."
DiStefano invited students and employees to the Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Summit on Feb. 18 and asked all academic and administrative units to define "inclusive excellence" by March 15.
The survey wasn't all bad news — 65 percent of students very often felt welcome, 75 percent very often felt intellectually stimulated, 72 percent strongly agreed that they were proud to be students at CU and 70 reported that they had made friends on campus.
But CU's leaders said they weren't excited to see the many other negative responses, especially from underrepresented minority groups and international students.
The changes at CU need to occur deep within the university's foundation — only adding new programs won't change the campus culture, said Christina Gonzales, vice chancellor for student affairs.
The results of the survey will help inform the direction of CU's offices that address student affairs, diversity and discrimination and harassment, among others.
"We're not just going 'Oh, programmatically, what are we going to do that looks fluffy?'" Gonzales said. "Are there policies that we need to look at that are maybe causing some challenges or obstacles? Are there other pieces in the infrastructure that we need to look at that might be causing this unintentionally. But it's going deeper because that's the only way that we'll see real change."
University leaders have talked about CU's climate issue for several years, but didn't feel they had enough specific data to understand where, when and why students felt unwelcome.
Now, they say they know what to make top priorities.
WATCH: University of Colorado statement on inclusivity
"We have to make certain choices," said Valerie Simons, director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance. "This survey, like any survey, is really going to say 'OK how are we going to spend our time?'"
Campus leaders say they're considering the school's social climate as part of a broader conversation about retention and graduation rates. They believe that the more welcome and connected students feel, the more likely they are to stay at CU, succeed academically and graduate in six years or less.
'Leave CU with a distaste'
According to the survey results, which Bob Boswell, CU's vice chancellor for diversity, this week called "sobering," many students felt uncomfortable getting counseling or support on campus, participating in campus social life and speaking up in class.
Less than half of respondents said they didn't know where to report an act of discrimination or harassment that they witnessed or experienced personally, and 21 percent reported often feeling disconnected from other students.
Less than half described the campus as very accepting of diverse political opinions and 22 percent said they heard other students make derogatory comments about people with conservative political beliefs.
When all the data are taken together, African-American students perceived the campus climate in a more negative light than other respondents.
Just 8 percent of African-American respondents described CU as a diverse campus and a little more than a quarter said they felt valued and supported. Though 65 percent of all respondents said they felt like they belong at CU-Boulder, just 38 percent of African-Amerian students felt this way.
While 72 percent of all respondents said they were proud to attend CU-Boulder, 57 percent of African-American students felt that way.
That's no surprise, as campus leaders across the country — including at CU-Boulder — are hearing from black students about discrimination, a lack of representation among faculty members and other issues.
Black students say many of their peers are leaving CU because of its social climate. They've been in talks with CU's leaders about their concerns, such as the lack of a center or space for minority students on campus.
Indeed, African-American students are less likely to graduate in six years — 59 percent of black students who started at CU in 2009 finished in six years, compared to 71 percent of all students.
"It's today that we come together and we work together to make sure that we have a safe space on campus, that students feel safe on campus so that they don't leave CU with a distaste," said Paris Ferribee, president of the Black Student Alliance, at a demonstration in December. "Because that's not fair to you to have to (choose) between your sanity and your degree."
Other minority groups reported feeling excluded or marginalized, including Hispanic and Asian-American students, who were more likely to report stereotyping jokes or comments.
Higher numbers of Native American students said they considered leaving CU and more international students reported feeling left out of conversations or activities and feeling as if people are afraid of them.
Just 31 percent of students described CU as a diverse campus.
Classroom, dorm experience
Though the campus conducts a climate survey every three to four years, this iteration included more pointed questions about how students feel in the classroom and in their residence halls.
Less than half of respondents felt their instructors often challenged offensive comments, with 20 percent reporting that offensive comments were often ignored or left unchallenged. Many students said they didn't see themselves reflected in course materials.
Boswell, the vice chancellor for diversity, is working to address the in-classroom student experience and believes that faculty need more training on how to address offensive comments made by students.
Officials also want to make inclusivity more of a factor in determining who gets tenure.
In the dorms, a majority of students described their experience as a positive one — 92 percent of current residents said they felt safe, 75 percent felt included and 85 percent felt accepted by most other students. More than 80 percent of current residents also reported that disrespectful behavior was effectively dealt with by a hall director or resident assistant.
CU leaders believe they can harness students' positive experiences in residence halls to help improve climate elsewhere.
"If we know that they're getting that sense of community, that the res hall is so strong, that's where we've got to potentially focus our efforts ... to really promote the messages we're trying to get across to students," said Simons, the institutional equity and compliance director.
CU's administration is working with a consultant to develop a strategic plan around diversity and has been hosting discussions with campus departments, faculty and students about what they'd like to see moving forward.
Last year CU-Boulder revamped new student orientation in an attempt to make students feel welcome and connected as soon as they decide to attend.
The campus also wants to improve and continue its faculty mentoring program, in which professors work with freshmen to help them get acclimated.
For several years, student leaders have also identified campus climate as a top priority.
Students have started social media campaigns to highlight microaggressions and the need to support survivors of sexual assault and dating violence.
Last year, students hung posters all over campus using harsh language from real reports of bias-motivated incidents — such as "Go back to Africa, you don't belong here"— to start a dialogue about discrimination and intolerance.
This year's student body presidents have spoken out about racism, discrimination and harassment, particularly against students of color and Muslim students.
"We commit to fighting for more transparent and effective critiques of the university's lack of diversity in faculty on campus," the student leaders wrote in an open letter last fall. "We commit to working with other student governments in support of localized and common efforts around combating racism and discrimination in our communities."