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Widespread discrimination disproportionally affects marginalized groups on campus, survey finds

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Widespread discriminatory and harassing behaviors disproportionally affect communities of color as well as non-binary, trans and disabled communities on campus, according to the findings of the University’s first campus-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) survey released on Wednesday.

The survey, which was conducted in May, asked questions about inclusion and belonging on campus and collected data about race, ethnicity and other identities. Around 15,000 students, postdocs, faculty and staff members completed the survey — approximately 36% of the campus population, according to Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access and Community Patrick Dunkley. 

Approximately 63% of Black respondents reported experiencing at least one microaggression, according to the survey results, based on discriminatory scenarios presented to survey respondents, which ranged from racially-charged remarks to someone crossing the street as they walked. 

Nearly half of the survey’s transgender respondents reported suffering from harassing behaviors, and a nearly identical proportion of undergraduates with a disability reported experiencing measures of discrimination. The experiences described in the survey are limited to the two-year timeframe from 2019 to 2021, and in many cases do not encompass a community member’s full time at the University.

“The harmful behaviors reported in this survey have no place at Stanford and should never be tolerated,” wrote Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell in an email to the community on Wednesday. “We are deeply sorry for the experiences of those individuals who have had to endure this kind of treatment.”

The results also indicated a pattern of harassing behaviors toward University staff members. Out of the 1,313 staff who reported experiencing verbal harassing behaviors, 41% said it came from a supervisor while 26% indicated the harassing behaviors came from a faculty member. 

Tessier-Lavigne and Drell stated that the discriminatory and harassing behaviors reported in the survey were widespread throughout campus and that many community members said this resulted in feelings of ostracization, a stifling of their opinions, avoidance of professional events and thoughts about leaving Stanford.

Dunkley said that while these findings were “troubling,” there were also positive aspects. Nearly 80% of community members have found at least one group where they feel welcome on campus, he said. Though only 65% of community members said they felt valued on campus, that number rose when respondents were asked about their department or work unit. 

“The headline might be about the survey results,” Dunkley said. “But the story is about what happens next.”

While there are a number of ongoing efforts to advance the IDEAL initiative — such as DEI training and anti-bias training for faculty and a new Protected Identity Harm reporting protocol — Dunkley said that the University will be engaging with the community to develop a plan to address the issues uncovered by the survey.

“I think there have been complaints that there’s a lot of listening and not enough action,” Dunkley said. “This is the University saying we have listened, we have heard and now we are converting this into action.”

The open-ended questions of the survey will be collated by an external consultant and posted to a website, and community members will have the opportunity to post feedback, with their name or anonymously, on the survey’s dedicated website. In the near future, Dunkley added, the University will hold community forums and focus groups to ensure that the action steps Stanford takes are addressing the survey results.

“At Stanford, we strive to create an environment that welcomes, supports and celebrates people of all backgrounds, races, genders, identities, ages, religions, physical abilities and perspectives. Based on the survey results, it is clear that we are not meeting our own expectations for the kind of inclusive culture we hope to create at Stanford,” Tessier-Lavigne and Drell wrote. “We must all work together to eliminate these behaviors that the survey showed are widespread in our community.”

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Cameron Ehsan is a desk editor for the News section and the engagement editor. He is studying biology and American studies. Contact him at cehsan ‘at’
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Jed Ngalande ‘23 is a Staff Writer for Vol. 259 Academic News.