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Student Athlete Transition
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Campus Climate Assessment


Campus Climate Assessment

Introduction and Goals

As with any assessment of risk, the goal of a campus climate assessment is to objectively measure a set of variables. It is a fact-finding and assessment tool, to determine the type of environment students, staff and others function within, in terms of tolerance for diversity, prejudices, gender bias and other factors. A campus climate assessment can also identify risky student and staff behavior that may lead to incidents of harassment, hazing or the creation of a hostile work environment. Further, to identify critical issues and their unique characteristics in order to offer appropriate recommendations and strategies.

Steps in a Campus Climate Assessment

Personalize the Assessment
Each school faces its own set of challenges and at the same time, has a history of successes addressing sociological issues. The variables to be evaluated will range from institution to institution, based on: size, location, type of institution, student and staff characteristics, level of training, culture and past history.

Personnel Interviews with Key Constituents

Interviews oftentimes work better than a survey approach. Standard questions are required, but the interviewer needs to be flexible and know when and how to change or redirect the interview. 

Key constituents include:

Department Heads and Staff (such as, human resources, residential life, student affairs)
Student Organizations (such as, residential life and student affairs)
Counseling/Health Center
Multicultural Affairs
Athletics (including, the athletic director, other administrators, coaches and student-athletes)

III. Identify and Assess Critical Issues

Alcohol and other drugs
Dating Violence/Sexual Harassment
Discrimination (Race, Gender (LGBTQ), Class, Differently Abled, etc.)
Technology (social networking sites abuse)

IV. Understanding Root Causes (and Sources)

Familial Issues

Understanding family history (mental health issues, drug and/or alcohol dependency, violence, etc.) can provide insight to potential risk factors emerging with individual students. 

Culture (home and school)

Students come from communities that instill strong belief systems and “code of conduct” that can help identify triggers and provide avenues to open communication if identified. For example, communities that have show strong support for sports create what some refer to as a “jockocracy” where athletes are lionized and rarely held to account. Similar dynamics exist with other sub-groups.  It should be noted that such an atmosphere can have negative consequences, for individuals who are not a member of the desired group.

Technology (media, and communication)

Students today do not know a world without instant information and communication. They are exposed to increasingly more information without the complimentary knowledge to navigate the volume or understand the content in a constructive manner. Further, much of the technology and communication are do so without proper adult supervision and appropriate censorship, thus leaving interpretation to children and their peer groups. The volume of information and access also impacts the way students receive and retain information.

Social Expectations

Rules that surround social behavior are often assumed. Friendships, dating relationships, “cliques” are often the most powerful influences to student behavior and are primarily based on rules that are amorphous and oblique. However, the rules are generally considered to be “common sense” or understanding. This can be the most difficult area to address as it requires penetration into the spirit of youth culture. However, honest examination of the rules of adult culture can provide some insight.

Gender Identity and Expectations

Simply stated, there are behavioral rules for boys and, for girls. These rules are based on rigid social and traditional rules of gender identity and expectations. Strict adherence to the rules are usually damaging to the individual. Divergence from the rules can disrupt social order that has been governed by them. As more students self-identify and society becomes more tolerant, gender expectations and roles, need to be carefully considered and addressed.

Group Affiliations (sports, Greek, Ethnic, etc.)

The need to feel belonging and identify within a group are very powerful.  Whether innate (ethnicity) or desired (Greek organizations) students will often suspend (common sense) rules to maintain membership. Hazing and other “rituals” have different meaning to those who seek membership, no matter the cost to self or other individuals and/or groups.

Understanding Institutional Vulnerability

Case Studies:

University of Colorado (Rape and Sexual Assault by student athletes)

In this case, the University football program (coaches and student-athletes) were accused of an orchestrated effort to provide sexual encounters for high school recruits. The women, either students or prostitutes, were in many cases not willing participants.

The result was a charge of rape against individuals and charges (under Title IX) that an environment was created that was hostile and dangerous for women on campus. The suit, brought by two female students was eventual dropped, but not without considerable cost (financial, reputation, etc.) to individuals, the football program and the institution.

Duke University (alcohol and team climate)

Perhaps one of the most high profile cases in athletics in higher education. Three members of the men’s lacrosse team were accused of raping a women at an off-campus house rented by several team members. Alcohol (under-age drinking) was involved in a party where an exotic dancer (the accuser) was hired.

The aftermath of the incident brought more damage than the incident itself. It was the perfect storm of social factors that created a firestorm. (Campus v. community, black v. white, privileged v. poor, men v. women). All were exploited by outside, opportunistic forces who sensationalized and exploited the incident.

Alfred University (hazing)

What can institutions do to prevent such incidents?
In each case, the behavior was preventable

II. Overview of the Field

Prevention vs. Risk Reduction

The vast majority of programs and initiatives defined as “prevention” are designed, more accurately to reduce risk for potential victims or rely on actual incidents to provide an example of “what not to do.” True efforts of prevention should address precipitating factors (societal, ecological and attitudinal) that lead to perpetration in the effort to truly prevent incidents from every happening.

Victim-based approach

Similar to “risk reduction” programs, many programs rely on testimony and advice from victims. Survivors of (drunk driving, violence, etc.) are often asked to tell their story to create empathy. Such empathy is short lived if there is no connection to the factors that lead to the incident. Once again, victim-based programs do little to identify factors that lead to perpetration.

Lessons from “alcohol and other drug prevention” efforts

Alcohol and other drug prevention efforts for the past three decades have done little to turn the tide of underage drinking, drug abuse, etc. While some drugs have lost their appeal (heroin, cocaine) other drugs have replaced them (prescription drugs, “crack”)


III. Best Practices

Campus-wide programs

Programs should go beyond “at-risk” populations and should employ and involve multiple constituents on campus. All constituents (administration, staff, faculty, staff, physical plant, etc.) should be exposed to a message that is consistent across groups and provides opportunity for interaction between and amongst groups.

Working with men and male student athletes

Specifically in the area of violence related prevention, (experienced) men and male athletes have a particular platform to change the cultural norms around violence, alcohol and relationship violence.

“Issue” focused programs versus environmental approaches

This should not be an “either/or” approach. Programs  should deconstruct the issue (alcohol abuse, relationship violence, hazing, etc.) and examine the environment in which they exist and go “unaddressed” to achieve a deeper understanding and more clear path to prevention.

Student leadership programs

Student listen to students. Students also understand the culture more acutely then practitioners, educators and researchers. Properly trained and empowered students can identify and penetrate the campus climates that possess the greatest risk factors

Student leadership programs

Student listen to students. Students also understand the culture more acutely then practitioners, educators and researchers. Properly trained and empowered students can identify and penetrate the campus climates that possess the greatest risk factors.

Social Norms Campaign

Social norm campaigns allow the silent majority of students a voice. Most students do not behaviors the glorified minority who are party-crazed, oversexed, under-achievers that have long represented young people and the college social experience. By delivering the facts of the reality and providing a voice for those who abstain, students are giving behavioral choices.

Bystander Behavior

Bystander behavior programs educate and empower bystanders to understand precipitating risk factors and take action to “prevent” incidents from occurring.  They are generally “non-accusatory” and are designed to engage broad participation.


IV. The Culture Coming: Sex and Violence as social norms

Impact of technology on how students behave socially

Technology has allowed media to focus precisely on the population it wants to influence. Recent generations of young people socialize in virtual media environment where entertainment and communication are immediate, swift and rarely involve consequence or depth.

“Friends with Benefits”

Over exposure to casual sexual encounters (without consequence) younger and younger, children are acting on that information with casual sexual encounters.  The term “friends with benefits” was coined in the mid 1990’s to name the behavior that was casual as friends getting together to play video games…with other (sexual) benefits. Other similar social behaviors have emerged as early as late elementary school.

Hazing rituals and expectations

With less understanding and interpersonal interaction and, an added exposure to violent and de-humanizing behavior, hazing rituals have become more sexualized and violent.

Relationships as entertainment

“Reality” based television programming is very popular and dominates much of the (network and cable) programming targeted to young people. A central theme to much of this genre of entertainment is the search for “love” and relationships. 

In the absence of a more healthy and honest conversation about relationships, sexual behavior and intimacy, such programming has become the “norm” for a generation of children.

V. Strategies

Examine contributing and underlying factors that influence behaviors

A comprehensive and honest assessment must be taken that involves all constituent groups.  All contributing factors should be considered against the overall climate of the campus, beyond the issues (e.g. campus traditions, school history, philosophical approach to education (faith based, experiential learning, etc.))


Learn to address and discuss these issues while building teamwork
and unity

Addressing difficult issues should not pit one department or constituent group against another. The process should be done in the spirit of raising the campus community to a collective place of involvement, improvement and growth

Learn to use existing behaviors, habits and practices to address
these issues

Academic institutions possess a variety of skilled individuals, unique philosophical approaches and practical examples of addressing complex problems. In many cases, the wheel does not need to be reinvented when addressing social issues. 

The more information disseminated and ideas employed allows for innovative solutions and collaborative  efforts to be considered. Fear of collaborations and approaches that takes us out of our “comfort place” will only stifle solutions.

Provide practical solutions that can be employed in everyday settings

Employ strategies and practices that allow for solutions and interaction to occur daily. Avoid “special sessions” or unrealistic proclamations and goals. Encourage process, engagement and allow constituent benchmarks for achievement.


Select and implement programs that meet the needs and profile of the institution

An honest assessment of the overall campus environment that is desired is key to choosing the right strategy. The approach must meet the overall philosophy and profile. Keep in mind, most individuals came to the institution because it matched their individual values and goals. Engage them in a way they can “hear” the message and work to improve their place within a campus environment to which they are committed.



© 2012 Don Mcpherson Enterprises LLC.