Talking about Mason’s Campus Climate!

Sometimes, though not often enough, conversations about climate dynamics relate to weather patterns and their impact over time, sustainability, and climate emissions.  Mason’s Campus Climate Committee meets monthly to discuss a different type of climate dynamic: incidents, events and patterns of behavior that lead individuals and groups to experience the university as unsafe, intolerant, lacking support for first amendment rights and having a chilly or hostile climate.  Understandably we are concerned when Mason’s climate is experienced in this manner by faculty, staff and students.  For some time, we have intentionally worked to identify and address climate dynamics that foster such perspectives.

In 2007 Dr(s) Victoria Rader and Mark Hopson, while serving as Faculty Fellows, described the Campus Climate Committee as “committing to advise University life staff on the establishment of programs and structures allowing the university to anticipate, manage and grow from the difficulties and conflicts that inevitably arise on a campus shaped by volatile social forces and thousands of people from different backgrounds and life experiences”.

To the eye of the newcomer the intentional effort toward assuring a safe learning environment and academic freedom may not be apparent.  So much so, that some faculty, staff and students muse that Mason has not been impacted with major strife, protest or acts of civil disobedience.  Others of us can recite with humility and continued concern, Mason’s certain history of controversial and critical events such as student gatherings fueled by critiques of the administration; groups  in conflict (based on a difference in values, identity, opinion, status);  protests of controversial speakers/events (influenced by global conflicts/issues such as Israeli and Palestinian relations); demonstrations related to the presence or absence of legal protections; incidents of abuse (sexual assault/harassment) and expressions of intolerance, bias, and discrimination.

As part of the Mason experience, the events described above influence how Mason’s climate, in and outside the classroom, is characterized. The task of the committee is to help the university community and administration learn from these types of incidents over time, to gather and discuss information from them that can be applied to the next significant occasion. Each incident is likely to be etched in some one’s memory as a moment when the university has or has not served them well enough. Using our collective knowledge increases our ability to act institutionally with consistency and in a manner that secures the public’s trust.

The committee reports to the Vice President for University Life and through this reporting line, connects with the university senior administration.  Participants are involved in many aspects of Mason’s community. The committee is comprised of offices within University life: The Offices of Student Conduct; Student Involvement; Disability Services; Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education; University Ombudsman, International Programs and Services; Women and Gender Studies Center; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer, and Questioning Resources; Student Health Services; Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education and Services; University life leadership from Arlington, Prince William and Loudon Campuses; other areas across mason: Intercollegiate Athletics; University Police; and the Office of Equity and Diversity  Services; including  academic faculty members from: Sociology and Anthropology; Communications; Education; Women and Gender Studies; and the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s Dialogue and Difference Program.

By design, the Campus Climate Committee supports the work of many university offices and academic entities providing Mason’s critical infrastructure and working mechanisms. These members of the Mason community help sustain the campus climate. Discussions during Campus Climate Committee meetings provide a common understanding among participants, enhance our ability to form consultation relationships, and provide information to students, faculty and senior administrators.

Maintaining a campus infused by diversity of thought, experience and culture requires that we continue the practice of self-examination.  At any moment climate dynamics belie observations of our progress, offering new challenges. These moments frame the work of the Campus Climate Committee. Our efforts to understand and better our campus climate, are so that concepts like chilly and hostile will not characterize your Mason experience and require vigilance from us all.

If you believe you have witnessed or have been a victim of a Bias Incident you can file a report at biasincident.gmu.edu. For information about the Faculty Liaison Network designed to help provide resource to faculty members and support the teaching-learning experience or additional information about the Campus Climate Committee contact Dennis Webster at campuscc@gmu.edu . You can also follow us on twitter @Masonclimate.

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