by Paloma St. Jean
This article is a summary of the paper "Pathways to Success for Disadvantaged Students at North Park University: Climate of Diversity and Christian Campus," conducted by 2017 NPRESS (North Park Research Experience for Summer Students) participant Paloma St. Jean, a Molecular Biology/ Biotechnology major, under the direction of Dr. Barrington Price and Dr. Peter K.B. St. Jean. NPRESS is a summer research opportunity for undergraduate students at North Park University to come up with a proposal for 8 weeks of research, on a topic of their choice.
My study aimed to investigate practical pathways to the holistic (academic and non-academic) success of disadvantaged students at North Park University, to understand what constitutes a positive climate for diversity on campus, and to understand how, and the extent to which, NPU being a Christian campus relate to promoting a positive climate for diversity on campus.
Data for this study was collected via an online survey sent to 2000 NPU students out of which 65 completed the survey. Non-Academic success and Academic success of these participants were analyzed using various statistical techniques. Academic success indicators were only available for 47 students. Success was measured based on comparison of student experiences in the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.
The survey asked a series of questions concerning the extent to which students felt like they are being treated unfairly due to a range of diverse backgrounds such a being a commuter, athlete/non-athlete, covenant and non-covenant member, conservative/liberal. Overall, the students who responded seemed to have never been treated unfairly due to their various backgrounds by staff, faculty and administrators, however some, but probably very little tension seems to exist among some students who described their unfair treatments as not very often.
Based on these questions, researchers were able to answer the question; what is the nature of the climate of diversity that exists on campus?
According to the results of the “unfairly” questions there seemed to be a very positive climate of diversity among staff, faculty and administrators on campus, in the students’ perspective. However, the climate among students seems slightly less positive than that of staff, faculty, and administrators.
Apart from this quantitative data, there was also a qualitative portion to this study where students were asked to identify the factors which contributed positively and negatively to their success from in the academic year 2016. The main factors that seemed to have contributed positively to the students’ success were based on relationships they had made on campus, whether it was with friends, faculty, or staff—all to be expected for a small campus. However, according to the students, the disadvantages of commuting, a felt disregard for student voice on campus, and the results of the 2016 presidential election were the main factors that had a negative impact on their success for the 2017 semester.
A significant point of tension was reported between politically liberal and conservative students. Some conservative students felt they were being “attacked” by other students, who are mostly liberal, because of their political views. They mentioned that although there were safe spaces on campus made for liberal students, who were unhappy about the results of the election, there were no safe spaces made for them on campus. These students felt like this attitude toward conservatism has created “an environment that nurtures a misguided hatred for conservative student population.” What does this say about the concerns of our North Park University community?
Our research team, through the process of analyzing this information, came to a conclusion we did not expect at the outset. When we think of the term disadvantaged, we often immediately link the word to poverty and an underrepresented race. The definition doesn’t always expand beyond these parameters. What these researchers have learned is that, we should apply a broader definition to “disadvantaged”, as profiles or positions that are potentially unfavourable toward success; simple and inclusive of everyone.
The results of this study showed that it is not only the students of minority races or low socioeconomic backgrounds who stumbled upon hindrances to their success. Students of all races, income backgrounds, religious beliefs and even political views had their success threatened by some negative factor, whether it was a personal or public matter. This researcher is led to ask: what is being done to help these students succeed, to live lives of significance and service as the North Park motto aims?