Center for Access and Restorative Engagement

Campus Climate

What is Campus Climate?

Campus Climate is defined as:

  • a measure (real or perceived) of the campus environment as it relates to interpersonal, academic, and professional interactions (Hurtado, 1992);
  • the current patterns of beliefs and behaviors emerging from participant views of organizational phenomena (Peterson and Spencer 1990);
  • the institutional characteristics that affect the behavior and academic or professional performance of the members in the campus community (Wells, 2000).

Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT)

In summer 2009, President William C. Powers Jr. requested that the Vice President for DDCE and Vice President for Student Affairs investigate whether the university’s dispute resolution procedures were sufficient to handle any outbreaks of hateful or violent speech in a coordinated, campus-wide manner; how diversity programming on campus could be more robust; and how best to advance diversity on campus. As part of this charge, in fall 2009 the Vice President for DDCE created the Campus Climate Response Work Group, composed of representatives from the DDCE and the Division of Student Affairs. The group’s final report recommended creating a response team to ensure a more coordinated campus-wide response to incidents of bias and hate.

In spring 2011, President Powers requested that the Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT) be established. It was officially launched in March 2012. Comprised of a group of staff members from across the university, the CCRT facilitated appropriate responses to reports of campus climate incidents affecting the UT Austin community and served as a repository for reports of bias. The team reported to the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement and was jointly coordinated through the DDCE and the Division of Student Affairs.

The primary goal of the CCRT was to create a more inclusive, welcoming university community by connecting individuals to the appropriate resources when bias incidents occurred and by developing short- and long-term responses in partnership with university departments. The core functions of the CCRT included: Receiving reports and coordinating responses; Supporting individuals involved; Identifying resources and connecting individuals as appropriate; Coordinating, when appropriate, activities with other campus-wide entities; Evaluating the response process following each incident report; Exchanging information between the CCRT and team members’ departments; Keeping track of bias incident trends.

As a result of a settlement agreement with the organization Speech First, the Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT) was discontinued as of December 22, 2020. As a result, the DDCE was charged with seeking alternative ways to foster discourse about issues related to campus climate. See the timeline of actions below.

Timeline of Actions

Campus Climate Response Team discontinued per the settlement agreement (DDCE) charged with seeking alternative ways to foster discourse about issues related to campus climate.

University websites updated, including information from an existing university webpage for other reporting options for incidents of violence, misconduct, harassment, or discrimination.

The Office for Inclusion and Equity (OIE) in the DDCE was designated as the university unit where individuals could receive advice regarding potential university policy and rule violations and where those matters could be reported. Among other resources provided for students, faculty, and staff, an online concern submission form was also provided.

An online anonymous survey was created to receive university community input, regarding the development of a long-term alternative mechanism for gathering campus climate concerns. Vice President for DDCE, Dr. LaToya Smith sent a university-wide email with the information and indicated she would review the survey input and provide an update at the end of the spring semester.

The DDCE planning team continued reviewing feedback and expanded outreach efforts to campus and community units and committees. A communications plan was developed to provide greater transparency regarding the process. To include more individuals, the planning team created opportunities for individuals through focus group meetings and development of a working group, to inform recommendations for a new approach to providing campus climate support.

A Campus Climate was developed with background information regarding campus climate and the CCRT settlement. The webpage also includes a timeline of the process and opportunities for input such as the online survey and focus group meetings, including space for any student, staff, or faculty member to sign up to provide in-person input via a scheduled zoom meeting with planning team members.

The campus climate support survey, available February 25 – April 30, 2021, generated almost 160 responses, submitted by university community members, mostly those who identified as staff or students (46% and 28% respectively). Faculty responses accounted for 27% and 11% of responses were submitted by alumni. Though the survey provided the option of anonymity, one third of respondents (33%) included their name.

Over twenty-five focus group and individual meeting opportunities were provided throughout the month of April 2021 as an additional option for gathering input to determine suggestions for how The University of Texas at Austin can provide support regarding campus climate issues. Meeting options were provided for: legislative student organizations and student centers; university resource groups and staff council; faculty councils and diversity and inclusion committees; and campus partners, as well as open meetings for any interested student, staff, or faculty member.

The Campus Climate Working Group was convened, drawing from university departments and individuals who expressed interest in this process. Fifteen working group members, representing students, staff, and faculty, were given the charge to inform recommendations for a new approach to campus climate support to Dr. LaToya Smith, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement, by:

  • reviewing resources including focus group and survey data;
  • providing expert knowledge based on perspectives and experience; and
  • prioritizing categories of suggested elements of campus climate support.

The working group will participate in two meetings, held in April and May 2021, working in small groups and independently to prioritize themes and to provide examples of categories within each theme.

Through data analysis of campus climate support survey input and conversations with focus groups and campus partners, the following seven themes emerged:

  1. Reporting/Sharing Experiences;
  2. Support;
  3. Communication;
  4. Education/Programming;
  5. Recruitment/Retention/Hiring/Promotion;
  6. Policy Change; and
  7. Defining Diversity/Campus Climate

The themes and relevant comments were provided for review by the Campus Climate Working Group. Comments were provided verbatim with potentially identifying information redacted. The following three of the seven themes emerged as immediate priorities:

  1. Reporting/Sharing Experiences
  2. Support; and
  3. Communication

While there was not consensus regarding the theme prioritization, working group members did agree that all seven themes are of importance and should be addressed.

Recommendations for alternative ways to foster discourse about campus climate issues were provided by the DDCE planning team after working group analysis of themes that emerged from the campus climate survey data and data from focus groups and conversations with students, staff, faculty, and community members.

Based on the working group recommendations, Vice President for DDCE, Dr. LaToya Smith sent a university-wide email to provide an update about a new approach for The University of Texas at Austin to support our university community in developing an inclusive campus climate.

The DDCE launched Inclusive Campus Support, a unit which provides:

  • An accessible online anonymous mechanism for university community members to share campus climate experiences which are helpful and/or concerning;
  • Consult without referral (unless required by law such as Title IX, etc.), investigation, adjudication, or discipline;
  • Peer support for faculty, staff, and students in addition to information regarding university/community resources;
  • Transparent communications including shared categorized data representing both helpful and concerning campus climate experiences submitted by individuals; and
  • Connection to and collaboration with university and community key stakeholders in an advisory capacity.

Transparency and accountability are important. This webpage will continue to be updated throughout this process.

In December 2023, Inclusive Campus Support was renamed Initiatives for Campus Support.