OPINION: Why Pomona students should take the climate survey now

In an attempt to reassess Pomona College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, President G. Gabrielle Starr sent a campus-wide email May 29, 2019, indicating how the school would address issues surrounding campus climate for the upcoming school year.

In that email, President Starr announced that Pomona hired an outside firm — Rankin & Associates Consulting — to gather information, identify strengths and weaknesses and offer strategies to improve the college’s approach to educational equity. Starr promised to rely on the recommendations from R&A to determine how to foster a flourishing and inclusive campus for faculty, staff and students.  

To ensure the analysis of the external firm was accurate, prioritize Pomona voices along the process and ultimately ensure Starr’s promise is fulfilled, the Climate Survey Working Group was created. This essential committee consists of approximately 20 members, including staff, faculty and five students. 

As the student representatives of CSWG, we have spent the entire fall and most of this spring working alongside Sue Rankin, who is also a senior research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, and her team. Together, we created the main tool we will use to collect results about Pomona’s campus climate: the climate survey. 

Understandably, survey fatigue gains fervor around this point of the spring semester, and the stress surrounding the uncertainty of COVID-19 also continues to build. But, student participation in the climate survey is essential. We want to express two aspects that make this survey unique from other surveys that Pomona has administered.

First, this survey is uniquely made for Pomona from an external source, R&A. The CSWG vetted survey questions offered by R&A. Additional questions were added and the initial bank of questions were revised to be more contextually fitting to our Pomona community. We paid particular attention to making sure the survey’s language and answer options reflected the diversity of identities and culture at Pomona.

Second, R&A only takes clients whose host institutions are committed to full transparency when releasing these results. Therefore, R&A and Pomona must release any and all results they find, without intervention from the host institution. There is no opportunity for Pomona to revise any of the findings regardless of how good or bad they are. 

This tactic has been effective for R&A at other peer institutions, such as Carleton College and Smith College.

At Carleton College in Minnesota, the 2008 survey was answered by over 1,500 participants and generated poignant qualitative information. Carleton drove this initiative with that transparency in mind when it released all of the survey results online, focusing exactly on what the executive report recommended the college should focus on: classism, racism and gender/sexuality bias. Since then, Carleton students, faculty and staff have been active participants in spearheading initiatives to address the most pressing concerns from that report.

At Smith College in Massachusetts, the 2016 survey was answered by over 1,477 students, faculty and staff, a 34 percent response rate. Since then, Smith students, faculty and staff have been bolstering its initiatives on issues surrounding mental health, which 73.5 percent of respondents mentioned as a big campus issue, as well as changes to work-study for incoming first-years because the climate study found them to be significant components in the overall well-being of those at Smith.

As we are all aware, it is of utmost importance for Pomona to participate in this similar work and address the various issues that exacerbate the divide within our community, especially following the effects of COVID-19, which resulted in student evictions and this semester’s updated grading policy. We need to properly assess our campus climate and thus need student voices for a substantive and proper evaluation.  

Pomona prides itself as a leader for diversifying academia, not just for incoming students, but for prospective faculty and staff as well. Although this diversity and inclusivity is welcomed, it is still not enough. Pomona lacks the environment to adequately support our diverse community.

Notably, the admitted incoming class of 2024 consists of 58.8 percent domestic students of color and 13.6 percent international students hailing from over 49 U.S. states and 45 other countries. Over 20 percent of the class of 2024 are first-generation students — meaning neither parent has a four-year college degree. These demographics have been the standard for incoming classes for years, yet Pomona has only recently started to provide institutional support for the diverse populations they so eagerly seek to recruit and admit.

Diversity and inclusivity should not be the end goals. We should strive for retention, belonging, support and resources. In order to make Pomona a “home” for all students, faculty and staff belonging to all identities, the College must recognize that not all community members experience Pomona in the same way. 

The College must take a deeper look at the residential, social and learning environments for all of the members of our community and critically reflect on whether current support services are meeting student needs. We must strive to foster a campus community where everyone will flourish — academically, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. 

The climate survey questions address these issues and request recommendations for actions from respondents. The results and recommendations will become our tools to hold President Starr accountable, to ensure she fulfills her promise and leads our college in a direction beyond surface-level diversity and inclusion, allowing every student to thrive on campus. 

However, in order to draw any statistically valuable conclusions from the data, a significant number of staff, faculty and students will need to participate. With current response rates of 11.3 percent for students, 18.9 percent for faculty and 21.4 percent for staff, we urge Pomona students to take this survey to have their voice heard in how Pomona should change and address our needs in the future. 

Let’s make sure our individual voices are heard for our communities and ensure Pomona is kept accountable to its goals beyond mere diversity and inclusion. Why let Pomona continue to admit a variety of students and bring in diverse staff and faculty if they can’t support them?  

To take the survey, log into your student portal and click “Home” until the top banner comes into rotation following Wig Awards and COVID-19 relief information. Despite the survey’s length — it takes between 25 and 40 minutes to complete — and that it is not possible to save answers to come back later, we remain optimistic about turnout. It will remain open until May 8, and R&A will present the results in fall 2020. A community-driven process for recommending actions moving forwards will also be presented.

Thank you, in advance, for taking our survey. 

Alfredo Reyes-Guzman PO ’20, Khadija Jallow PO ’22, Shuxin Zhou PO ’22, Sofia Gardenswartz PO ’22 and Mohsin Ali Butt PO ’23 sit on the Climate Survey Working Group. If you have any questions, thoughts or concerns, you can email Reyes-Guzman at community@aspc.pomona.edu.

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