Tuesday, November 29

University planning focus groups to gather feedback on diversity

By Grace Beckner

Editor-in-Chief

The university is gearing up to start conducting student focus groups by the end of October to continue the conversation started by a campus climate survey sent out in April.

“The overarching purpose was to try to figure out what things we need to continue to work on to create an environment of belonging for everyone,” said Terrence Schofield, associate provost of mission excellence and reconciliation.

Surveys were sent out via email to all traditional undergraduate students last spring to address student experiences within the Trevecca culture around diversity, equity and inclusion, said Allison Buzard, program director and assistant professor of social work. 

Information collected from the survey and focus groups are going to be utilized to develop training for staff, faculty and students. 

“It is really an act of student preparedness, faculty preparedness, and community preparedness,” said Schofield. “Because God has blessed us with so many people from different places and spaces, now we have to get prepared in how to live that out in a community of belonging.”

Administration was aiming for a participation rate of 20 percent from the traditional undergraduate student population to respond to the survey, said Schofield. 22 percent of students ended up filling out the survey, equivalent to roughly 400 people.

Faculty, staff and administration were also given the opportunity to take the survey, and around 55 percent of them completed the form.

Selah Torralba, student director for inclusion and belonging, said the students she spoke to found it formative and helpful to have a channel to share their experiences where they could go into detail without being singled out.

“I think that overall it provided a lot of privacy for students to share honestly, and in turn, helped the data be accurate,” said Torralba.

Buzzard said the survey results mirrored what she has been hearing in conversations with her students, but seeing the data was still both a sobering and enlightening experience.

“There is this intention to move out of a reactionary place, into an intentional systemic healing place, and I think there is this commitment to doing this right and well, and then paired with that there is also a sense of urgency,” said Buzard. “I feel like that data is sobering, enlightening, and I think it is spurring many conversations.”

Schofield said he hoped the survey would be seen as an opportunity for students to voice where they are. With the focus groups, Schofield wants to pull out the details from the survey, define the real meaning, and find concrete things to work on.

“This is not a diagnostic tool, the survey is not to tell us what’s the problem,” he said. “The survey is to give the people an opportunity to talk, and so when you look at that, you already know you’re going to have a whole lot of opinions.”

Trevecca is planning to hire moderators from outside the university to conduct the focus groups. Schofield said his team is already in the process of developing the questions that will be asked.

“With a focus group, when done well, people have a chance to share their stories in front of one another,” said Buzard. “I think it will amplify, bring light to, bring stories to the questions we still have lingering from the survey.”

Focus group participants will be selected on a volunteer basis, said Schofield.

Torralba said she wants to encourage students to show up to the focus groups as their authentic selves and remember that this data is meant to serve them.

“I would say to students, this is for you, so share to the extent that feels safe,” said Torralba. “But also share to the extent that is right for you and honors your experience, because something I have noticed in myself is the tendency to try to shrink my experience when I’m asked to share, and I think that the unique opportunity the survey and focus groups give is really valuable.”

After the first round of student focus groups this fall, staff focus groups are planned to take place during the spring semester.

“We are trying to diagnose, so we are taking our time to diagnose,” Schofield said. “We want this place to be a place of belonging, so it is very important that we take our time and that we work this thing down through the system.”

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