North Texas Daily

Campus diversity, inclusion focus groups face lack of participation

Campus diversity, inclusion focus groups face lack of participation

Campus diversity, inclusion focus groups face lack of participation
April 29
10:00 2021

The Division of Institutional Equity and Diversity is struggling to hold focus groups to gain more insight on student and staff responses to the 2018 Campus Inclusion Climate Survey due to a lack of participation.

The group conversations address perceptions of institutional support for diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as experiences with discrimination, harassment and bias. Specific racial and ethnic demographics are sought out because they provided the most statistically significant responses. These groups include Black individuals of any gender, both foreign-born and U.S.-born Hispanics of any gender and white men. 

“We had about 2,500 students and 700 staff, 400 faculty respond to the climate survey,” graduate research assistant Zahra Khalaf said. “We had data that we got a lot of findings from, but we didn’t know the reason why — what the individual perspectives are.”

The climate survey found that Black students and employees feel considerably more marginalized overall compared to every other racial and ethnic group. They also experienced the highest rates of harassment, discrimination and bias by race and ethnicity.

White male students and employees indicated the least engagement with and support for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Self-described conservative and/or Christian white men believed that the university did not need much diversity and inclusion training, as they perceived the university did enough work on the issue.

Hispanic students and employees indicated a more positive experience than other ethnic groups. Their responses were not as statistically extreme as the previous groups, leading Khalaf to call them “the middle group.” Hispanic university members found the institution to be more welcoming than other minority groups.

“We wanted to disaggregate American-born [Hispanics] from those born in another country, as their perspectives could be markedly different,” said Shani Barrax Moore, director of Diversity and Inclusion.

While the focus groups were scheduled for the spring of 2020, they were pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative now faces new challenges with a lack of participation. As of now, the American-born Hispanic student discussion is the only study that has been completed, with four participants taking part.  

Other sessions were scheduled for early April but had to be canceled. There were not enough participants signed up for the foreign-born Hispanic or Black student groups to conduct them at the original times. While enough white male students and Hispanic employees agreed to participate, none showed up to the sessions. 

In regards to the low employee participation rates, Moore said she feared a pervasive culture of bullying and retaliation toward university workers, as seen in the climate survey’s findings, acted as a deterrent. Moore is hopeful that the remaining focus groups will be more successful in the upcoming in-person fall semester.

“I hope UNT as an institution will consider the impact of these key findings – particularly related to the marginalized experiences of our Black/African American students and employees – so that all members of the UNT community feel cared for and valued,” Moore said.

Jermaine “JT” Turner, President-elect of the Black Student Union, said he is excited that the university has put this new initiative in place. 

“It’s important that feedback is coming back from our Black students on campus in regards to their experience,” Turner said. “Our university loves to push the idea of being diverse, but has lacked to make this space inclusive to all students, especially those who identify as Black. I believe this is a great start but after a while surveys, committees and trainings become pointless if we don’t actually see change being made.”

Featured Image: The Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity office is located inside of the Hurley Administration Building. Image by John Anderson

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Ileana Garnand

Ileana Garnand

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