Creating a Welcoming and Supporting Campus Climate

February 11, 2016

Lisa Smith-McQueenie

A message from the President's Office by Lisa Smith-McQueenie, Assistant Provost for Diversity & Inclusion

This week, my co-author is Lisa Smith-McQueenie, Assistant Provost for Diversity & Inclusion, and our topic is how we can go about creating a welcoming and supportive campus climate for all.


Navigating college can be a challenging process for anyone. There are new structures, new people, new policies and procedures, new demands, and new rules of engagement. All students grow best when they are involved in their campus communities, and when the institution values that involvement. Students can be bolstered by campus climate or stymied by it, and that is why we need to consciously work together to ensure our shared campus climate is one that truly embraces all of its members.

Campus Climate

Campus climate may be defined as the way we establish inclusive learning environments, ensure equity, and promote shared community values. Simply put, campus climate informs the quality of experience for each member of the community.

For students of color, a campus climate that is perceived as unwelcoming, even hostile, can have a direct impact on their college experiences, and how or whether they thrive in their learning communities. We have heard from a number of students of color who have said that at times they feel unwelcomed, excluded, or not valued here at Simmons. While Lisa and I are saddened by this fact, it also strengthens our resolve and lends urgency to the initiative we are now undertaking: to create and sustain an inclusive climate for every member of the Simmons community.

Fostering an inclusive campus climate can be challenging and uncomfortable work, requiring a sustained long-term commitment that acknowledges the value of diversity in all forms, but we are united as a community in our determination and commitment to this movement.

Campus Culture at Simmons

Simmons is committed to creating a campus climate/culture where all community members experience express regard for their humanity, diversity, dignity, and contributions. Here, we believe an intellectually stimulating environment assumes the value of diversity as a basic tenet to academic excellence as we engage with one another to address the dynamic, evolving issues of our community and world. We aim to provide students, faculty, staff, and administrators with an environment that facilitates the opportunity to come together to share knowledge, apply ideas, and critically evaluate information.

Nevertheless, we recognize that Simmons, as an institution, employs traditions, structures, and practices that may convey unintentional messages that belie our desired campus climate. Further, we must understand that as individuals, we bring our own cultural norms that impact and are reflected in the experiences of others. Cultural norms sometimes include bias of various forms, prejudice, unintended slights or offenses, or even overt racism or homophobia. Stereotypes and unconscious biases may have an impact even when we are unaware that our behaviors and attitudes are prejudiced.

Furthermore, even with a level of awareness of personal or institutional cultural norms or biases, we may still be creating an environment that feels unwelcoming, marginalizing, and noninclusive to fellow community members. Students of color and other underrepresented groups may feel this disproportionately, and are susceptible to negative experiences that can be made more intense due to complex identities.

This is the imperative that Simmons must address.

Action Items

As racial tensions across the nation continue to spark debate on college campuses, we implore every member of the Simmons community to step up their efforts to create a campus culture where each of us experiences regard for our humanity, diversity, dignity, and contributions. It is deserved by every individual as a basic human right, and is foundational to building, sustaining, and enhancing any community. 

How do we do this at Simmons? Inform rather than admonish. Respect rather than prejudge one another. We must continue our dialogue, take necessary action, and be compassionate with one another.

We will strive to provide and enhance the structures, programs, personnel, and resources needed to comprehensively support students of color throughout their educational journey. We seek to carry out these, and other initiatives, collaboratively, with timely input and support from students, faculty, and staff.

Structures

  • We will strengthen the systems and identify the resources to address bias, discrimination, and harassment.
  • We will intensify our follow-up with students after a crisis or traumatic event.
  • We will establish pre- and/or post-orientation “on-boarding” activities for students of color as a supplement to summer/fall orientation.
  • We will devise a cohort model among students with the goal of encouraging and creating opportunities for peer support.

Programs

  • We will hold monthly meetings or gatherings, some with an open agenda and others focused on timely topics.
  • We will identify and publicize scheduled community meeting opportunities, as well as regularize drop-in hours in critical offices.
  • We will initiate an advising/mentoring program to better connect students with faculty, staff, and alumnae/i.
  • We will facilitate student input on an ongoing basis with regard to response to campus and world events.

Personnel

  • We will identify best retention practices and benchmark current Simmons practices against them.

Resources

  • We will identify a space for a multicultural student organization office.

As we have in the past, it is so important as members of the Simmons community to take the opportunity to listen, support, and learn from one another.

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences." – Audre Lorde

Thank you for your efforts and commitment to this most worthy cause,