Surprise, Whiteness, and the Climate Survey

I’ve been part of a few climate surveys both at my university and as a part of different associations in social psychology. Most of these surveys seek to collect information on discrimination experiences in these institutions, and for those marginalized groups who participate and report, they do report their experiences of discrimination. I’ve noticed that many White colleagues express surprise and dismay at the results. Dismay is reasonable, but surprise reflects ignorance at the history of oppression within these institutions. Many of the White members of these institutions then propose ways to reduce discrimination in various domains.

However, in my experience, very little structural change follows these survey results, and the “reforms” proposed act as band-aids to the larger structural source of discrimination. After some time has passed and some band-aids applied, the cycle begins anew. New climate surveys are conducted, and again, White folx express surprise and dismay.

For marginalized groups, climate surveys are a burden. Another burden of educating White people on the reality of oppression; oppressions that many Whites distance themselves from. Discrimination is experienced, never enacted, and they are never responsible for contributing to and benefiting from systems of oppression embedded in these institutions.

Without an institutional audit on the structural factors that enable discrimination and privilege the privileged, climate surveys have little value to marginalized communities. Instead, they act act moral cover to the powerful, giving the impression that the institutions will eradicate oppression. However, oppression is endemic to these institutions, so dismantling oppression requires dismantling the institution.

Climate surveys are a waste of time to marginalized people, and until real structural changes occur in these institutions, efforts to develop recommendations from climate survey results will merely work to mask the real problems of Whiteness and oppression.