October 15, 2013

Minorities Feel Less Safe On Campus, Cornell Survey Shows

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Racial and sexual minorities feel less safe and comfortable at Cornell than their peers, a University survey report released at the end of last month shows.

The analysis was conducted by Cornell’s Institutional Research and Planning Office and the University Diversity Council to assess campus climate, according to Cornell’s diversity website. The data was drawn from surveys conducted earlier this year on both undergraduates and post-graduates.

The undergraduate student survey showed that a larger percentage of racial minorities at Cornell felt insulted or threatened based on their social identity than white students. Forty-five percent of black students, 32 percent of Asian students and 29 percent of Hispanic students reported having felt — occasionally to very often — insulted or threatened by students based on their social identity. In comparison, 20 percent of white students said they felt that way.

The results were even more stark for sexual minorities: while 24 percent of self-identifying heterosexual students felt — occasionally to very often — insulted or threatened by other students based on their social identity, 50 percent of self-identifying lesbian, gay or bisexual students and 73 percent of self-identified queer students reported feeling that way.

Prof. N’Dri Therese Assie-Lumumba, Africana studies, said she was sad but not surprised by the survey’s results. “We bring students and faculty members here because of their past achievements and what they can contribute in the future. But to find those achievements and those potentials are overlooked or shattered by perception — it’s sad and unacceptable,” she said.

Jadey Kartikawati Huray ’14, president of Haven: The LGBTQ Student Union, echoed Assie-Lumumba’s sentiments.

“Talking to any number of people in the LGBTQ community, people have said they have experienced or heard of at least one person who has been threatened, or insulted given their perceived identity,” she said. “It shows how much we need to go forward as a community.”

Another telling difference was found in students’ perceptions of campus climate. When undergraduate students were asked how they would characterize the campus climate for a student in their own racial category, seven percent of white students and nine percent of Asian students said the campus climate was very disrespectful or moderately disrespectful for students like themselves. In comparison, 13 percent of Hispanic students, 20 percent of international students and 27 percent of black students said the campus climate was moderately disrespectful or very disrespectful for students like themselves.

Survey results also showed that both racial and sexual minorities made more effort to educate themselves about diversity. More than 60 percent of black students and international students reported either often or very often making an effort to educate themselves about diversity, while 59 percent of Hispanic students, 52 percent of Asian students and 44 percent of white students said they did the same.

Eighty-three percent of self-identified queer students and 62 percent of self-identified gay, lesbian or bisexual students reported having made an effort — often to very often — to educate themselves about diversity, while 49 percent of self-identified heterosexual students said they did.

Assie-Lumumba said that these results suggest minority students feel more burden to educate themselves and others about diversity. “Those who are threatened, who feel insulted, in addition to the burden of processing that in order to move on, have also the burden of educating others,” she said. “[Students] are not here to do that. That’s not their role, but they do it anyways.”

Nia Hall ’14, co-chair of Black Students United, agreed, saying the burden of educating others about diversity often falls on the shoulders of minority students.

“I think oftentimes, too much of this work falls on the students and not the institution,” she said. “We desperately need more university support in educating the student body on differences, resources for our respective communities — in the form of faculty, money and space — and overall attention to each community’s specific wants and needs.”

The upcoming campus climate study will be conducted by Prof. Sylvia Hurtado, education and information studies, University of California at Los Angeles.

While the previous survey by Cornell’s Institutional Research and Planning showed how students felt, Hurtado’s study will build on the survey results and also focus on what the University can do to improve its campus climate.

“We plan to identify areas of commonality [between different communities] and also differences across various communities to help build upon and explain previous work from surveys that many graduate and undergraduate students filled out last year. … Together, these assessments begin to provide an important benchmark for future planning and that can be aligned with campus diversity goals,” Hurtado said.

The study will involve 12 focus groups — based on various racial and ethnic, socio-economic, gender and national identities — who will be chosen randomly from the students that volunteer to take part, according to Hurtado. The results of Hurtado’s study will be released in February 2014.