A View into the State of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging on Campus

A View into the State of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging on Campus

College and university leaders strive to create safe, welcoming campuses where students will thrive. Supporting diversity and inclusion is a key component needed to achieve this goal. Diverse, inclusive campuses positively impact both students’ academic and social experiences. It also prepares them for post-graduation success by helping them understand how to successfully navigate issues of identity, promote inclusion in the workplace and in their communities, and value the perspectives of people with many different identities, perspectives, and experiences. 

To help college and university leaders take action on their diversity, inclusion, and belonging goals on their campuses, Vector Solutions has aggregated and anonymized hundreds of thousands of student survey responses and is providing a view into the data below. This data provides unique insight that can help higher education leaders make informed decisions about how best to support diversity and inclusion efforts on their own campuses. 

The data in this report was collected between June 2021 and May 2022 and is based on student responses to pre-course and post-course surveys associated with the Vector courses on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for Students and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Students. Overall, 405,830 responses were received. 

The data reflects, promisingly, that most students believe it is important to treat others with respect, and most students say they would intervene if they saw a bias-related incident. 

The data also shows that many college students struggle with a sense of belonging, and more than half of college students witness bias on campus – primarily racism and sexism.  Non-heterosexual or non-cisgendered students are more likely to report witnessing bias. 

Bias on Campus

Every time someone commits an act of bias they not only harm the person they targeted but also the witnesses. More than 50% of surveyed students reported witnessing bias on campus. This finding reinforces the importance of building skills and confidence for all members of the college community. When these harms go unaddressed, individuals may view it as social permission to engage in bias. Students reported witnessing the following types of bias: 

  • 56% of student survey respondents have witnessed sexism, and in the non-hetero population, this number increases to 65%.
  • 53% have witnessed racism, and in the non-hetero population, this number increases to 61%.
  • 37% have witnessed discrimination based on sexual orientation (homophobia), and in the non-hetero population, this number increases to 49%.
  • 30% have witnessed discrimination based on gender identity (transphobia) and in the non-cisgendered population, this number increases to 58%.
  • 31% of students have witnessed sizeism, discrimination based on body weight, shape, or size, and in the non-hetero population, this number increases to 41%.
EDU - HE - National Insights Report - DEI - Blog - Bias on Campus

Witnessing or experiencing bias negatively impacts students’ feelings of safety and belonging on campus and can impede their academic performance as well. Colleges and universities can create a more equitable environment by helping students understand how to report bias, enacting anti-bias policies, and providing opportunities for students to build skills in recognizing and responding to or reporting incidences of bias. Institutions must work to meet these challenges and assist students in overcoming barriers to receiving support.

Confidence to Intervene

The majority of students surveyed reported that they “believe it is important to treat others with respect, and would intervene if they saw a bias-related incident. Specifically, students were asked, what behaviors they would feel confident in engaging in if they observed a situation they believed was, or could lead to, an act of discrimination. Their responses: 

  • 57% of students reported they would feel confident enough to step in and separate the people involved in the situation.
  • 78% would ask the person they are concerned about if they need help.
  • 42% would confront the person who appears to be causing the situation.
  • 51% would create a distraction to cause one or more of the people to disengage from the situation.
  • 61% would tell someone in a position of authority about the situation.
EDU - HE - National Insights Report - DEI - Blog - Intervene

This willingness to step in spotlights the importance of ensuring that students feel confident enough to do so in the moment, and of making sure they know how to do so in a way that minimizes risk to themself and others. 

This willingness to intervene spotlights how important it is for institutions to deliver training that builds confidence and ensures that when students take action, they do so in ways that are safe and effective.  

Struggling to Belong

The Vector survey results show that a meaningful percentage of students struggle with a sense of belonging and that LGBTQIA+ students are at even higher risk for isolation. Among the findings: 

  • 20% of LGBTQIA+ students feel like they don’t fit in.
  • While 87% reported seeking to form friendships with people of different identities, only 77% of respondents felt their peers do the same.
EDU - HE - National Insights Report - DEI - Blog - Struggling to Belong

College can be a challenging time for students. In addition to focusing on their academics, most students are also on their own for the first time, and away from family and friends. They may be struggling to find their own identity and their place in the world. 

When students feel like they don’t belong, it can have a negative impact on their overall safety, academic success, and mental well-being. It can also affect student retention and can impact the decisions students make around substance misuse. Creating environments where all students feel supported and can gain the skills to create inclusion, belonging and connection can help address these issues. 

The Impact of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts: Expectations vs. Reality

According to the Vector survey results, more than three-quarters of students (77%) believe diversity and inclusion efforts provided by their institutions will make a positive difference in their success after college by providing them with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and make progress in their careers. 

However, for some students, their experience with diversity and inclusion fell short of expectations. The survey found that 91% of students said they expected to be exposed to diverse opinions, cultures, and values at their school. However, after time spent on campus, 10% fewer students held this expectation – indicating that students lose confidence in the ability of their institutions to meet this expectation after they arrive. 

The World Economic Forum lists “social and cultural awareness” as a top ten skill needed in a 21st-century workforce, and students themselves expect diversity, equity, and inclusion to be part of their educational experience. Proactively addressing this topic will help colleges and universities meet student expectations and prepare students for post-graduation success.

Data is power. When colleges and universities understand students’ perceptions about diversity inclusion and belonging, they can target efforts where they are needed most and help students have a meaningful, safe, and happy experience on campus.

About the data: The above Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging data is from June 2021 through May 2022, and included responses from 405,830 students. Of those, 62.3% were white, 76.4% were heterosexual or straight, 38.9% were men, and 56.8% were women.

The State of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in Higher Education

To get more insights from Vector’s recently released 2022-23 data, download “The State of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging” report below.

To learn more about Vector Solutions’ Diversity & Inclusion courses for higher education, visit our DEI course page.

Want to Know More?

Reach out and a Vector Solutions representative will respond back to help answer any questions you might have.