Climate Survey to Assess Campus Atmosphere and Diversity

Dr. Addrain Conyers and Freddimir Garcia to lead President Yellen's Initiative

As part of an initiative to strengthen diversity and inclusion, Marist will develop and conduct a climate survey to assess the atmosphere on campus. College President David Yellen introduced this project in a memorandum to the Marist community at the beginning of the school year, explaining:

"During the 2018-19 academic year, Marist will undertake a vital and relevant climate assessment. I consider this climate survey to be an investment in the College's future, an opportunity to have a positive impact and help create a more inclusive campus."

Professor Addrain Conyers, Marist's newly appointed Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, and Freddimir Garcia, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, will spearhead the survey in collaboration with a third party consulting agency, Rankin and Associates.

Professor Conyers began teaching in the criminal justice department in 2012 and Garcia, a Marist alumnus, has been working at Marist for the past eight years in the admissions department, financial aid office and now the President's office. The two co-chairs sat down to discuss the survey, their roles and the state of diversity at Marist.

Addrain Conyers, Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion (pictured with Cornel West)

Q: How did you end up in this position, working on diversity at Marist?

AC: The overall goal is to make sure everyone on campus feels welcome and the administration felt that I could make contributions when it comes to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Some of the duties I have already been heavily involved with so the president and the administration felt that I could contribute.

FG: I was a presidential fellow under Doctor Murray. I kind of did a little bit of everything; I consider myself a generalist. When President Yellen came a year and a half ago, he wanted to restructure the office a little bit and I was already working on diversity so we kind of geared my role towards that.

Q: How has the climate survey progressed thus far?

FG: The climate survey is supposed to be measuring feelings and attitudes of how people feel on campus from their perspective. We have hired a third party, Rankin and Associates, to pretty much administer it so people feel more comfortable in taking it. We hope to roll it all out in the fall semester and we have a working group of students, faculty, and staff that are kind of guiding, ranking and understanding Marist and putting together the survey.

Q: Why does Marist have a need to implement an initiative like this?

AC: I think the president is being proactive to the needs of the campus. There have been different things happening in institutions (riots, protests) because people don't feel welcome. So I view it as a proactive measure in making sure everyone here does feel welcome. Why wait for something bad to happen?

Freddimir Garcia, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity, Inclusion and Community EngagementQ: How do you eventually plan to handle the results of the survey?

FG: First we would like to share it with the campus community so we all understand where we are and what are the experiences people are having at Marist. Then we want to develop some action plans. We want to make sure that we are addressing any issues that arise from the survey.

AC: The climate survey could reveal that we are doing a great job and, if it doesn't show that, then we can see areas of inclusion that we need to work on. If the survey reveals that there's a need, we will, as a community, have to come up with a strategic plan to address that need. If there's a certain group or if there's a certain area of the culture or if the survey reveals that need, I will be a key advisor when it comes to some of the initiatives or plans of action.

Q: How have you seen diversity and inclusion improve in your time at Marist?

FG: When you look at numbers, representation has grown (the number of international students, the number of religious groups). It also has grown in terms of diversity of thinking. The variety of ways people think about certain topics has also grown and people are more empowered to speak out on issues which means that we are doing a good job in allowing people to feel comfortable.

Q: What specific changes would you like to implement?

AC: One of the things I would definitely like to see happen is having some kind of inclusivity training in which members of our community have access to workshops or webinars which help educate ourselves on topics related to inclusion. It's like how faculty has ally training. I am looking for something that deals with helping people understand a lot of the different backgrounds that come to our campus.

Q: What motivates you to continue to work on diversity at Marist?

FG: I'm very passionate about Marist and what it has done for me. I just hope to be able to impact Marist in many different ways and I think diversity is a good way to do that.

AC: Through my own ideology. That everyone should feel welcome and that diversity and inclusion go way beyond people's limited views of race, class, and gender. Inclusion should make people feel welcome from wherever they're from geographically or based on their political views. And we have to make sure we have a campus climate where people feel welcome.


Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18