Students Assess Diversity at Marist Through Climate Survey
The Marist Campus Climate Survey closed on Nov. 16, concluding the fourth of five phases in an initiative originally set forth in the school’s 2011 – 2016 strategic plan. The concept for the climate survey emerged under President Emeritus Dennis J. Murray’s administration and came to fruition in the spring of 2018.
In a memorandum to the Marist College community on Jan. 23, President David Yellen said the initiative would serve to “identify areas in which inclusiveness can be improved and to expand and replicate programs and policies that have proved successful in meeting the needs of the Marist community.”
Freddimir Garcia, special assistant to the president for diversity, inclusion and community engagement, and Dr. Addrain Conyers, director for academic diversity and inclusion, spearheaded the survey’s implementation as co-chairs of the Climate Survey Working Group (CSWG).
Besides the co-chairs, the CSWG includes eight faculty members, 10 administration and staff members, and two students, one of whom graduated in the spring. Conyers said the survey results will indicate areas where the college succeeds and where it can improve.
“It’s a lot more complicated than basic demographics, though it’s easy to look at it in terms of race, gender and class,” Conyers said. “Culture, norms and values influence everything. Do certain students from certain geographical regions feel a certain way? Do they feel included or do they not feel included? Should we create something that is more welcoming and inclusive for them?”
In order for the survey’s results to be generalizable to the entire Marist population, response rates needed to reach 30 percent. As of Nov. 21, Garcia said that goal had not been achieved.
“We are currently very close to the 30 percent participation rate and we look forward to creating a plan that best addresses the results of the survey,” Garcia said. “Rankin & Associates will come to campus and report the results in April and present it to the Marist community.”
The Diversity Council enlisted the expertise of Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting to conduct the study. Having completed over 170 climate surveys on college campuses nationwide, Rankin provided a collection of previously tested questions to the CSWG. These questions provided a general framework for the survey and the CSWG integrated Marist-specific items as well.
For Brother Michael Flanigan, a member of the CSWG, student voice and involvement constituted the most significant issues in the survey.
“I see a decline in student involvement happening already, so that’s of concern to me,” Flanigan said. “Some people feel that Marist is losing the...original community spirit – many have said the spirit of the [Marist] Brothers. That’s of concern to me. We don’t own the college any more, but it bears our name.”
Senior Assistant Director of Admission Nicole Radassao said she has a vested interest in the success of the climate survey, both as an admission counselor and as a member of the college community for over 10 years.
“Our biggest selling point as an admission counselor is that...we have a strong community and that we are a supportive environment. Anything that we can do to assess weak points and pain points that we have as an institution is a good thing to maintain that campus environment,” Radassao said. She added that gauging the college’s inclusivity will facilitate a more comfortable campus community for incoming students.
“Every year for the past four years we’ve brought in the most diverse class in our history in terms of not only ethnic diversity but socioeconomic diversity. I think as we continue to bring in students of different backgrounds, we need to grow as an institution in supporting those students and their transition to college.”
Emma Barton ‘19, student assistant to Conyers, said she used the survey as a means to anonymously voice her concerns and ensure that issues at Marist are brought to light.
“I want to see different pushes for inclusion and everything, because I feel like some people feel targeted in terms of priority points,” Barton said. She added that the survey touched upon a wide array of topics within the scope of diversity and inclusion, like race, religion, homophobia, and biphobia.
However, Barton said other students, faculty, and staff may not have been eager to put time aside for the survey.
“I think the length is a little bit detrimental for people when they want to take it because when they hear that it might take 15 to 20 minutes, they’re like ‘Oh, I don’t have time. I don’t have time’,” Barton said.
Jennifer Browne ‘21 equated her motivation to fill out the survey with civic participation.
“I filled out the climate survey when I got the email with the link, simply because I understood that while these surveys may not always be taken seriously, it's important to express your opinion, because not filling it out isn't going to help anyone,” Browne said. “It's like voting in a way; you can't complain about politicians in office if you didn't vote to have them removed.”