MU survey shows students view diversity, campus climate positively

Monday, November 8, 2010 | 8:08 p.m. CST; updated 8:23 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 9, 2010

COLUMBIA — A majority of students believe MU is becoming a more welcoming campus, according to the results of a survey conducted last year by the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative.

Although 15.7 percent reported a harassment experience on campus, 59.7 percent of the 3,522 students surveyed said that from 2007 to 2009 MU had become "somewhat" or "a great deal" more welcoming to students from diverse backgrounds. Another 25.3 percent of students said the campus was "a little" more welcoming.

The results were presented at last month's Diversity Summit but have not been published.

The survey also measured student perception of diversity courses.

Although 38 percent had not taken a diversity class, those who did said they learned more about different cultures, as well as their own, as they completed more classes. About 43 percent of students said they had taken between one and three diversity courses.

“The research shows there’s educational value in studying diversity,” said Roger Worthington, assistant deputy chancellor for diversity, in an interview last week.

Of the approximately 550 students surveyed who reported harassment on campus, with some categories overlapping:

  • 43.7 percent said they were harassed due to gender.
  • 29 percent said they were harassed due to race or ethnicity.
  • 24.9 percent said they were harassed due to political orientation.
  • 22.1 percent said they were harassed due to religion.
  • 14.9 percent said they were harassed due to sexual orientation.

The study defined harassment as “conduct that had interfered unreasonably with (a student’s) ability to work or learn on campus.”

Members of minority groups were more likely to report harassment and believe the campus had become less welcoming than majority groups, Worthington said.

Students of color were slightly more likely to believe the campus had become less welcoming than whites. Agnostics and atheists were slightly more likely to believe the campus had become less welcoming than students who were members of religious groups.

Worthington said this data was consistent with most campus climate studies, but the findings still need to be taken seriously. He said the university will continue to work to improve the climate for minority groups.

The study did uncover one unexpected finding: Liberals reported more incidents of harassment than conservatives.

Liberals, 38.1 percent of the participants, reported 47.4 percent of the incidents of harassment related to political orientation.

Conservative students, 24.1 percent of the survey population, reported 32.1 percent of the incidents.

Moderate students, 36.1 percent, reported 20.4 percent of the incidents.

Worthington said further research was needed to explain why liberal students reported more harassment, despite all political groups rating the campus as liberal to varying degrees.

Yet, the evidence flies in the face of critics who have claimed that MU is a liberal, “one party-institution,” he said.

“Despite the fact that everybody agrees more or less that the campus is more liberal than conservative…there’s not all the negative findings of conservative students being bothered by it or suggesting they’re being harassed more than liberals,” Worthington said.

“In fact, it’s the other way around.”

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