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Survey aims to gauge diversity climate at UWF

The University of West Florida campus.
The University of West Florida campus.

The University of West Florida is in the midst of a monthlong, campus-wide diversity climate survey; it began Feb. 21 and is set to end March 21.

In this report, WUWF is reviewing the purpose of the mainly online survey and how the results will be used.

“Every four years, we update our Diversity Planand prior to doing so, we send out a climate survey,” said Dr. Vannee Cao-Nguyen, interim Title IX coordinator and deputy chief diversity officer at UWF, noting that this is the third Diversity Plan update as part of the university’s overall strategic planning cycle.

“Sending out this survey will allow us to get some feedback and insight in terms of how we’re currently doing and to rely on the results to kind of help us, inform, and guide us in terms of the work ahead.”

Coa-Nguyen says the Florida Board of Governorshas sent a clear message that universities should make it a priority to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion on their campuses. Proudly, she points out that UWF has been onboard for some time, working for several years to establish an atmosphere where students and staff can thrive.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and supported, and in order to do that we have to understand who our employees and students are,” she said, adding that the surveys provide an opportunity to learn about the campus community.

“You know, how many staff identify as LGBTQ or how many staff identify with a certain religion or faith. And, it gives us an opportunity to see and get a glimpse into those demographics and to better understand what we can do to continue to enhance the working environment or the learning environment.”

According to Cao-Nguyen, the survey is fairly similar for both students and employees, but with a little different breakdown depending on different sub-populations individuals fit into.

“One of the questions might ask if you are an employee with a disability. If you prompt 'yes,' it’ll take you to the next question and we will ask how we’re doing currently in terms of the services we provide for staff for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations. It’ll ask questions about whether we feel staff are well-trained and knowledgeable about disability,” Cao-Nguyen stated.

Other student and staff populations that are assessed include active military and veterans.

Dr. Vannie Cao-Nguyen is the Interim Title IX coordinator and deputy chief diversity officer at UWF.
Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media
Dr. Vannee Cao-Nguyen is the Interim Title IX coordinator and deputy chief diversity officer at UWF.

“Also, we ask about religion and spiritual affiliation, whether you identify as a person of color and also whether you’re an international student or an international employee here on a visa,” she added.

There are a few more days for members of the campus community to participate in UWF’s diversity climate survey. Dr. Cao-Nguyen says the results and personal comments received will be the basis for real actions by the university.

“An example might be if we have students who identify as LGBTQ, and let’s say they might say, ‘There’re not enough restrooms on campus that we have access to and are comfortable or feel safe going into,’” she proposed for discussion. “Then, that might go into the facilities portion of our plan and say ‘what are we doing to meet this need?”

Looking back, Cao-Nguyen says previous survey results put the focus squarely on recruitment and retention of under-represented faculty and staff.

“I know (campus) schools/colleges have developed their own diversity committees within their colleges,” she stated. “They’ve been working with HR to develop tool kits on things to be mindful of when they are conducting a search. I know that there have been areas where they focused on mentoring programs.”

Her conclusion is that she’s seen a lot evolve as a result of the feedback from those previous surveys.

This time around, the university has contracted with an outside vendor, Campus Climate Surveys, LLC, to administer the surveys and ensure responses remain anonymous. Cao-Nguyen says positive feedback will help identify strengths and she assures any negative responses will be viewed as chances for improvement.

“Certain areas we don’t hear anything about, that might mean we’re doing okay there. So, we need to focus on those areas that people are complaining about and that will give us an opportunity to shift and adjust how we’re doing things and what we’re doing” she explained.

For those faculty, staff, and students who have yet to complete the Diversity Climate Survey, emails are going out as reminders to do so by Monday.

For more information, Dr. Cao-Nguyen can be contacted at (850) 474-2834 or via email at vcao@uwf.edu.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.