Office of the Chancellor

UCI works to better campus climate through community-oriented events

UCI works to better campus climate through community-oriented events

Nov. 17, 2014

One of the most important aspects of campus life might be one of the most difficult to define: Campus climate doesn’t have anything to do with the weather. It’s the attitudes and behaviors exhibited by others that can influence whether a person feels comfortable, safe and respected within his or her community.

The chancellor’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture & Inclusion – comprising dozens of faculty, staff and student representatives – works to improve this collective atmosphere through targeted events that build community, inspire conversation and promote equity.

“College is an incredible time in a person’s life when a lot of identity formation, learning and mobilization take place,” says council co-vice chair Daniel Wehrenfennig. “The better we can shape that experience into something positive, the more we can influence society long term.”

The council aims to offer something for everyone with functions on LGBT issues, a concert celebrating African American leaders, lectures on conflict resolution and a lunchtime series on values.

“We hope that each event is worthwhile and informational, that students share the things that they learn with their peers, and that they take part in providing feedback to make these events better,” Wehrenfennig says.

Student feedback is vital in selecting topics for the New Narratives series hosted by Student Affairs, which includes workshops, panel discussions and lectures that promote communication and collaboration among different cultural, ethnic and social groups.

Student voices also are instrumental in Dramatic Transformations, an educational endeavor sponsored by the UCI ADVANCE Program, UCI’s Diverse Educational Community & Doctoral Experience (DECADE) initiative, and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ drama department. Dramatic Transformations surveys students annually about campus climate and creates performance pieces relevant to their findings. Now in its third year, it plans to expand its reach to undergraduate as well as graduate students.

“We will not erase conflict or challenges on campus,” Wehrenfennig says. “But what we can do is be a more productive, responsive community.”

That proactive philosophy is what led to the creation of an advisory council work group devoted to gathering student input on campus climate. It’s called the Listening Tour.

Twice a quarter, members meet with students to hear about their personal experiences and attempt to improve campus climate based on their remarks. If students don’t know about a resource that already exists, the work group will boost its visibility. If the university doesn’t yet have a resource available, members will bring the matter to the council to come up with a solution.

“A lot of the time, students aren’t aware of resources we already have in place,” says work group chair Vincent Vigil, director of campus organizations. “We want to raise awareness of those resources. And if there are particular themes that emerge in our research that we are not addressing, that’s when we take it to the council to investigate what we can do for that particular issue.”

At the first Listening Tour meeting of this academic year, held in October, students were asked how comfortable they felt on campus, what could be done to improve campus climate, and their perceptions of how certain cultural or ethnic groups were being served on campus.

After they talked among themselves and recorded their own notes, everyone came together for a full discussion in which opinions, concerns and suggestions could be freely expressed.

“We want to ensure that all of our students feel safe, but also that they feel comfortable with their identities on campus,” Vigil says.

“If students feel uncomfortable in some way on campus or if they feel that their friends or peers don’t have the same level of comfort that they do, they should definitely speak up,” he adds. “Talk to us on the advisory council and share that opinion. We can’t create change if we don’t know what’s happening. The more students speak up, the better we can create programs and make certain they feel comfortable on campus.”

Themes that emerge during the meetings are posted to the Listening Tour website along with links to UCI resources.

To learn more about upcoming events or resources related to campus climate, visit the council website.

– Anna Iliff, Strategic Communications