Existing research on primarily white institutions (PWIs) has identified many ways in which such institutions can be unwelcoming to people of color and others who may hold a minority identity, even when they are explicitly trying to diversify student, staff, and faculty ranks (cf. Hannon et al 2016, Harwood et al. 2018, Von Robertson et al 2016). While campuses have recently been focusing on creating “safe spaces,” there has been less work focused on how, when, and why spaces are experienced as “unsafe” for some members of a campus population.
This project focuses on using map-based interviews of students to analyze how different members of our campus communities experience the same spaces differently. The goal of the project is to recognize how and why spaces are unwelcoming and unsafe to members of our communities, with a focus on getting this information to people who can strategize solutions.
The proposed project fits especially well with the stated goal of the FaCE program to strengthen liberal arts education. As we know, the traditional small liberal arts college is facing both demographic challenges and existential challenges, both of which tie to the history of many SLACs being primarily white institutions. While ACM colleges routinely describe themselves as open to all and seeking to advance diversity of perspectives, engagement with global citizenry, and critical thinking, our success in drawing and retaining faculty, staff, and students of color has been uneven at best. While we often tout our diversity in terms of numbers of students from different ethnic, racial, and international groups, we spend less time establishing that people, once on our campuses, are connecting to one another and having the kinds of experiences we hope for them. We also are not always successful in uniting the efforts of faculty and staff to address student concerns. By working together to study how our different campuses feel fundamentally different to people from different racial and ethnic groups, as well as other minority identity groups, we can collectively discover ways to improve the experience of the liberal arts for all of our students, faculty, and staff. As we become more welcoming and inclusive or more diverse populations, we also will expand our imaginations and our capacity to creatively address the challenges to higher education in the 21st century.
There would be three activities for this project:
Interview protocol and data collection strategy development
Lake Forest College has a preliminary interview protocol, developed by students in a methods course, that can serve as starting point for developing campus specific interview protocols. The harder work will be brainstorming how data will be most effectively collected and how to ensure a good sample on each campus. Student researchers can be effective in gathering data and may get information that faculty and staff might not be able to elicit, but that would require making sure students are sufficiently prepared to interview well and to work with different populations. Data collection on each campus is largely a logistical question. Data analysis in this case follows a more qualitative/grounded theory model, for which some participants may need training, and which in any case requires multiple coders and a way to measure inter-rater reliability. Once the data is collected and analyzed, each campus will have both their own data and comparisons to other campuses. This can inspire cross-campus conversations about strategies that work, and it gives to each campus more robust data on how diversity and inclusion is happening on the ground – and how it is being challenged.
The first order of dissemination of research results will be making sure the analyzed data gets to each campus’s diversity and inclusion office (or equivalent). Ideally, the data can be presented to the faculty and staff of each participating campus, and some campuses might choose to also share it with students. The mapping protocol lends itself to a strong visual, and there is power in an image that might show what parts of campus feel least safe/welcoming to different students. It becomes a tool for asking important “why” questions.
For other ACM campuses, the primary product for dissemination will be a how-to guide, making it possible for other campuses to replicate the project work on their own campuses. Our hope is that the outcome of the final phase of the project, when the data from the project is shared back with diversity and inclusion officers and upper administration, will be the implementation of strategies to improve campus climate for historically underrepresented and marginalized groups. The reports on how the data was used can be shared with ACM campuses or presented by faculty and staff at relevant disciplinary and higher education conferences.
Resources & Materials
The first major activity of the grant will be the convening of team members at Lake Forest College to develop interview protocols. We have budgeted travel expenses and lodgings for each of the teams coming in from Iowa, as well as meal costs during the day of the workshop. We also have budgeted for various photocopying and workshop supplies which will be used for both this workshop and for the one planned for 2021. During the course of the 2020-21 academic year, team members will be coordinating on their own campuses to collect and store data. This work will involve all the team members in ways that contribute to faculty development and which requires hours of labor that are go beyond normally defined functions of participants. For this reason we have asked for a $1000 stipend for each team member and have factored in relevant administrative costs. In the event that we cannot get an agreement on campuses or from the ACM to provide stipends/honoraria to staff team members, we request that a comparable fund be established for each staff member to cover the cost of professional development opportunities (conferences/workshops) they might attend that will undoubtedly improve the quality of the project. Our preference, however, is that all members of the team be compensated in the same way. Because the nature of the interviews will require hard copies of the protocol and transcription of hand-written notes, we have also budgeted for supplies to each campus to cover the costs of copying, data collection, and storage. Finally, while the current plan is to consider how to incorporate data collection into classes, it may be the case that some campuses will require student workers to help manage the work. To that end, we have budgeted $700 per campus for student worker support (equivalent of 2 hours/week over 2 semesters @ $10.675/hr base wage plus benefits), plus a small buffer to cover unexpected hours. Finally, all three teams will again convene at Lake Forest College for a final data analysis workshop. The kind of grounded theory/content analysis work we anticipate is time consuming and will require a more substantive meeting. We anticipate a twoday workshop, with teams again arriving the night before, spending two nights in lodgings, and departing Lake Forest College at the end of the second work day. We have budgeted for materials for the workshop and for meals for all participants. This will be a key meeting for making sense of the data collected in this project and being able to report back to our campuses.
Outcomes and Significance
The intended products and outcomes of project activities are multi-layered.
On a professional development level, the products will be a new set of tools for gathering data about our campuses, a cohort of faculty and staff who have a new or deepened experience with grounded theory/content analysis, and a strengthening of alliances across curricular and co-curricular work toward the goal of improved campus climates of diversity and inclusion.
On a campus improvement level, the results of the data collection and analysis will be put together as a report to relevant bodies on each campus. Our hope is that the reports will help identify areas for intervention (if needed) and areas of success (to celebrate and replicate).
On an ACM level, we propose to develop a how-to manual for both the data collection and data analysis phases of the project that can be shared with all our member campuses. We also anticipate that there may be elements of how this project unfolds on each of our campuses that are worth sharing at various disciplinary and higher education conferences.