Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor
On Mar. 24, the President’s Office sent an email containing a link to a Diverse Learning Environments Survey (DLE) to the student body. The email strongly encouraged all students to fill out the diversity survey in order to help the administration better understand how differences affect experiences at Berry and how they can better meet the diverse needs of the community.
The email stated that the survey asks about academic work, interactions with faculty, staff, and peers, campus activities, personal perceptions of the climate on campus, and uses of campus services.
According to President Steve Briggs, the intent of the survey is to allow students the opportunity to express their experiences and perceptions of Berry.
“We’d like all the students at the college to fill out something that just kind of talks about their experiences here at Berry, relative to issues around the way they’ve experienced issues related to race or gender or issues of diversity generally,” Briggs said.
As explained in the Mar. 24 email from the President’s Office, this survey was developed in response to requests from student leaders and student activists to better understand the experiences of students, as well as areas in which Berry can do more to develop a culture of belonging.
The survey was developed by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles, an interdisciplinary center for research, evaluation, information, policy studies, and research training. Survey answers go directly to HERI, and in the following weeks, the organization will provide Berry with an overall report including comparisons to other colleges.
“It’s a national survey that’s been around for a long time that they kind of keep updating to reflect the needs in a particular moment,” Briggs said.
As Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor explained, she, along with Provost Mary Boyd and Registrar Bryce Durbin analyzed several different surveys prior to landing on the HERI DLE Survey including ones from Higher Education Research Institute, University of Southern California Race and Equality Centers and Insight into Diversity magazine. According to Taylor, the HERI survey was the most appropriate for the Berry community, as it allowed for the highest level of question reliability and validity, and provided opportunities for customization.
“There was a team, not affiliated with Berry, that actually reviewed all kinds of different surveys,” Taylor said. “We took their report and started there. What’s important when you do a survey like this is that you want it to be nationally normed, which means that it’s being instituted across the country and it’s being weighted appropriately so that you get a sense of, one, reliability and validity to the questions and the responses, but then two comparison data with other colleges and universities.”
The overarching goal of the survey is to gauge how students’ experiences on campus have shaped their perception of Berry. The anonymity of the survey, which also provides students who might not otherwise voice their opinion with the opportunity to speak out.
“We’d just like to get a sense of where we are and how we’re doing,” Briggs said. “There are people who are going to speak up and there’s others who don’t as much so we’d like to know from everybody, ‘what are you experiencing?’”
As Taylor further elaborates, while the survey does ask students for specific demographic information, as well as includes questions asking about students’ family income and specific experiences with issues like discrimination, sexual assault and conflict, all of that information is viewed by HERI and by college administrators anonymously. Questions asking for a student’s name and student ID number are specifically to get informed consent, as well as to ensure students are given the CE credit provided to those who fill out the survey. That information is not viewed in conjunction with the rest of the survey, of which responses from all students are sent to Berry from HERI together. Individual student responses will not be looked at, and only the Registrar’s Office has access to the names of students who have taken the survey.
“The college, when we signed the contract with HERI, had to agree to how we keep the information confidential,” Taylor said. “And so I will get reports from HERI and I will get to see percentages of how responses were, I’ll get to see a breakdown on where we fall with other institution’s. I won’t see an individual’s survey at all. All of the information that comes to me is completely anonymous.”
The confidentially agreement between HERI and Berry, as well as more information regarding the anonymity component of this survey, is outlined in the Survey Information Sheet accessible on the Berry Diversity Survey website.
According to Briggs, the survey comes in tandem with the Presidential Advisory Committee and the six subcommittees working to address issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion on campus. While the committees have some goals already set in place, the survey ensures that all issues are considered.
“Meanwhile, we have these committees that are trying to work on various issues so [the survey] is just a way of saying, ‘are we capturing all the right issues or are there other things we need to pay attention to?’” Briggs said. “One of the things the six committees have worked on is the need to do this kind of a survey to get a gist of where we are.”
Both the committees and the directed survey are working to foster a sense of inclusivity on campus, ensuring that it is a welcoming environment.
“We want Berry to be a place where people come and they feel safe and welcomed and encouraged, so it asks has that been true for you or not and what areas do we need to work on,” Briggs said.
Taylor further explains that the college will use the results of this survey to continue the work of the committees in this regard, as well as give them guidance to the lived student experience in the Berry community. For example, related to the field of student activities and student experiences, Taylor explained that this feedback could help the relevant departments as well as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions subcommittees focus their efforts on where Berry is falling behind the most.
“What I hope is that from the feedback of the survey, we can really start to look strategically at the areas that we’re doing well in, and how we can continue what we’ve been doing,” Taylor said. “Then what are the areas that we really need to do some work on, and then we can focus some time looking at that, potentially even bringing in some folks to help us think through what we can do better.
According to Briggs, although the survey is entirely voluntary, student participation is highly encouraged so that Berry can continue to improve its culture of belonging.
“We would love to get a high percentage of our students, we’d love to get 75% of our students to fill this out,” Briggs said. “We’ll try to make this fun and encourage people to do it in lots of ways.”
In an email sent out from the Dean of Students Office yesterday afternoon, Taylor announced that 50% of the student population had taken the survey. Taylor explained that while this might not seem too high, for a survey of this length, an expected completion percentage would be a lot lower.
“That could seem discouraging, but for a survey of this kind, not the topic area, but the length, usually about a 25% is stellar,” Taylor said. “So we’re doing good, but we really want to get that number higher.”
Students who complete the survey can receive one Cultural Events credit. Because students are not required to take the survey on a given day or at a certain time, students who want a CE credit must follow instructions from the Provost’s Office and the DEI Committee. Further, for the next several weeks, the Dean of Students Office will be raffling away Amazon gift cards to students who have completed the survey.