Do you feel welcome and safe in the city of Keene? This is a question of concern for Keene State College officials and Keene city officials. President Melinda Treadwell and Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dottie Morris have been working alongside the Keene Chamber of Commerce and Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to find ways to combat discrimination and acts of bias against students within the community.
One way in which issues of discrimination have been identified is through the campus climate survey. This is a survey sent to students every three years that asks them a variety of questions pertaining to how safe and supported they feel both on campus and in the Keene community. According to an overview of the survey, available on Keene State’s official website, “The survey begins with a set of statements describing a supportive environment (e.g., “I feel welcome at Keene State College,” and “I feel physically safe on campus”) and invites respondents to agree or disagree with each statement, using a 5-point Likert-type scale (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree).” The survey also includes an open comment section.
In the 2017 campus climate survey, it was revealed that a number of students were experiencing situations that made them feel unsafe or discriminated against, mostly off-campus.
“Students were reporting having more biased-related experiences off campus than on campus,” Morris said. “They heard gender-related slurs or sexual-oriented slurs or racial slurs. It’s usually people passing by and yelling something out, like women receiving cat calls.”
The LGBTQ community at KSC in particular was having these experiences. According to the 2017 survey, “54 percent of transgender students had an experience at KSC or community in which you felt unwelcome or unfairly treated or disrespected or unsafe, which you believe was related to some aspect of your identity.” One anonymous student wrote in their survey, “When I walk around campus, I frequently hear slurs such as f****t and t****y that make me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome as a queer individual.”
The comment section of the survey also revealed that women and students of color were having experiences that made them feel either unsafe or uncomfortable. However, the statistical differences between the 2014 and the 2017 surveys did not support that.
Despite the fact that not all students experience discrimination or unsafe feelings in the community, KSC and Keene officials have still made it a priority to begin solving this issue.
“Even if it’s a small subset of our students, it has to be something we take focus on,” Treadwell said. “It identifies things we need to improve and take seriously.”
Treadwell, Morris and city officials are using this information to begin targeting these problems and create solutions so students can feel more welcome in the community. Morris said that examining workforce development is an important step to combat ignorance, as well as maintaining communication with the community regarding diversity.
“We looked at information from the campus climate survey and information from the Governor’s Council on Diversity and Equity,” Morris, who is on the Governor’s Council on Diversity and Equity, said. “We’ve (the council) been going from community to community holding listening sessions and hearing about people’s experiences. Now we’re thinking of ways we can address those concerns.”
One active way in which those concerns are being addressed is making downtown safer. “We have dramatically increased the presence of police in the downtown area, especially on weekends and later at night,” Dragon said. “If you look at the statistics, the community is very safe, but there’s a perception that some times of the day or days of the week are less safe.”
Addressing and starting to solve these problems may not have been possible without the information obtained from the surveys.
“The campus climate survey is probably one of the most important instruments we have around student life and the climate of the students’ experience of feeling supported, welcomed and appreciated on campus,” Treadwell said. “I’m really grateful to folks who completed it.”
KSC will continue to work with the city to facilitate more ideas on how to make Keene a safer and more inclusive area. Another campus climate survey will be administered to students in 2020. Until then, if students experience any harassment, discrimination or feelings of being unwelcome/unsafe, they can report it to any of Keene State’s Intake Officers, which includes Associate Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity, Title IX Discrimination and Harassment Coordinator and the Director of Human Resources.
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at