University of Wisconsin–Madison

Climate Survey results show some good news, but also indicate some serious concerns

 A recent campus-wide survey of students found that most view our climate positively, consider diversity important and are trying to create a more welcoming environment for other students.  There are significant differences, however, between different groups of students in their responses.

The survey is the first of its kind for UW-Madison, and more than 8,000 students participated. The survey was conducted in order to better understand differences in perception and experience among students along lines of race and ethnicity, gender identity, and religious and political affiliation.

Students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups report experiencing a less favorable campus climate than majority students. Students of color, students with a disability, LGBQ and transgender/non-binary students feel less safe and less welcome on campus.

There are few differences reported in safety or welcome among other religious groups (Christian, Jewish or Hindu) or among students with different political perspectives. And while students generally perceive that conservative students are not treated respectfully on campus, in fact 85% of students with right-leaning or conservative views said they personally feel respected and welcome.

Most concerning in the results, 11 percent of students reported being the target of hostile, harassing or intimidating behavior while at UW–Madison. That result is deeply troubling. We want everyone to be treated with respect on campus.

While this survey was conducted at UW-Madison only, other schools have conducted similar surveys of on-campus perceptions. The recent National Survey of Student Engagement (a survey of freshmen and seniors from across the country) shows UW-Madison students rate their experience at this university more highly than do students at peer institutions, but the gap between white students and students of color is larger. This is not because students of color rate their experience at UW-Madison lower than do similar students at other schools, but because white students rate their UW-Madison experience much higher than at similar schools.

A committee of faculty, staff and students reviewed and summarized the results of this report and made some recommendations. Its report can be found here. Among the areas the committee highlighted for particular focus:

  • Promoting instructional best practices that ensure an inclusive learning environment;
  • Boosting recruitment of underrepresented students, faculty and staff and making sure we retain them; and
  • Increasing the capacity of students, faculty and staff to intervene in response to hostile, harassing and intimidating behavior.

These and other recommendations from the Campus Climate Survey Task Force expand on our Diversity Framework and its 2015 implementation plan, called R.E.E.L. Change.

Members of the campus community will have opportunities in the months ahead to join the conversation on campus climate, beginning with the annual Diversity Forum on Nov. 7 at Union South. The forum will feature nationally known keynote speakers, breakout sessions and a town hall meeting.

On Dec. 4, we will review the survey results and gather feedback from students and staff during two evening sessions. The first is at 6:30 p.m.at the Multicultural Student Center. The second session, intended especially for staff who work second and third shifts, begins at 11:30 p.m. at Gordon Dining and Event Center.

There will be other opportunities to engage about the findings and our future path. We also commit to repeating the survey in four years to track our progress.

Thank you to all who participated in the survey. We will use this data to make our campus a better place.

For more information on the survey, its findings and recommendations, visit the Campus Climate Survey webpage.