We must learn to challenge ideas, not individuals, UWRF climate survey says

Posted November 13, 2017

Last week, the UWRF administration released the results of the 2017 Campus Climate Survey Summary.

Three hundred seventy-eight students responded to the survey and of those, 125 said they experienced bias at UWRF.

Sixty-seven said that it was politically motivated — the most of any type of bias.

“The political divisiveness, I think you can expect that in an election year,” said Gregg Heinselman, assistant chancellor for student affairs. “Not surprising, but to kind of be the No. 1 item that students responded to from a climate standpoint — concerning.”

He said it is clear that students don’t feel as if the campus culture is conducive to having an open political conversation without feeling threatened or attacked at some level.

He wonders if we have lost the ability to have a conversation about the political environment.

“The question is then, ‘What obligations as a campus do we have to do something about that?’” Heinselman said. “It tells me we need to model discussion on all topics in a way in which students can learn how to have a conversation and attack an idea or a concept but not an individual.”

Goal No. 5 of the action plan put forward by the administration to change the campus climate is to “foster a culture of healthy argumentation and debate, especially among students.”

The plan states, “Student Affairs will lead a series of co-curricular programming (including through involvement of SGA, use of existing resources such as WRFW) that engages faculty and instructors, or in-house subject matter experts, in a well-moderated forum or open debate format on public policy and social issues.”

The action plan was finalized by the Chancellor’s Cabinet on Oct. 16, and $25,000 in institutional funding has been allocated to carry out the goals listed in the plan.

Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Martin Olague is interested to see what ideas come out of the action plan, which is just a starting point for creating an inclusive campus climate.

One of Olague’s roles is handling bias reports, and he will be instrumental in helping with goal No. 3 of the action plan, which is to “create a stronger culture of reporting on campus.”

With this goal, the Bias Education Response Team will promote the web page that students, faculty, and staff can use to report incidents of bias called “Report it.”

The plan states that information about what is and is not protected speech, guidelines for academic freedom and UW System freedom of expression policy will be available on the website.

The Bias Education Response Team also plans to work with the University Communications and Marketing office to run a promotional campaign with information about UWRF campus values and the importance of reporting incidents that do not align with those values.

“I think we’re coming back from so far down that a lot of the things we’re doing, a lot of campuses have already done,” Olague said.

He said that students will be the ones that ultimately create change on campus.

“Students are the biggest driver of anything and the biggest thing right now that students can do is become engaged in conversation,” Olague said.