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Academy officials share climate survey results
The Air Force Academy shared detailed results of the 2009-2010 Cadet and Permanent Party Climate Assessment Survey with local media and the public Oct. 29, 2010. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)
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 2009-2010 Cadet and Permanent Party Climate Assessment Survey (.pdf, 5.7M)
Academy officials share climate survey details

Posted 10/29/2010   Updated 11/1/2011 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

10/29/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force Academy officials discussed detailed results of the 2009-2010 Cadet and Permanent Party Climate Assessment Surveys Oct. 29.

Analysis of the survey revealed positive indicators, such as the overall view of the Academy, but also notes gaps in racial, religious and gender relations.

"We asked a lot of tough questions on the 2009/2010 survey, and now our senior staff, faculty and supervisors at all levels are working the issues hard," Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould said. "I'm encouraged by the mostly positive trends we saw from the survey, but I also know we've got some work to do in regards to the basics of respect and dignity towards each other. I'm confident everyone wants the Air Force Academy to be the best place to live, work, go to school and learn."

Col. Mike Therianos, the Academy's director of Strategic Plans and Programs, Requirements, Assessments and Analyses, or A5/A8/A9, conducted the survey and analyzed the results.

"A climate survey is a commander's tool -- it helps them get a good pulse of their units," Colonel Therianos said. "Whatever we're doing right, we want to continue, and whatever is not optimal, we want to improve upon."

General Gould took the initiative to expand the scope of the survey "to get a better sense of the ground truth," Colonel Therianos added. But the survey, while revealing, was imperfect, the colonel said.

"As we worked through the analyses, we realized there were three caveats that we had to acknowledge were preventing some of the analysis from being actionable," Colonel Therianos said. The caveats include ambiguous and vague questions that left room for multiple interpretations; changes in questions from previous surveys as well as new questions that had no trending data; and the timing of the survey, which was conducted during finals and holiday breaks.

Where trends are available, the climate has shown overall improvement, though the report cites areas that need focused attention and continued improvement. The four main areas of concern were freedom of religious expression, sexual harassment, physical safety and discrimination.

In the first area of concern, despite an improving trend since 1998, 48 percent of religious, non-Christian cadets who responded to the survey said they believe cadets have "low tolerance for those who do not follow a religion or believe in a divine being." This is approximately a 20-percent increase from the 2007 climate assessment survey.

"While overall religious tolerance at the Academy has improved since 1998, this one data point is of concern to us and will be actively watched to see if it develops into a trend which needs to be acted upon, " Colonel Therianos said.

Anonymous reports of sexual harassment, the second area of concern from the survey, jumped in 2009, but that question changed since the previous survey. In 2006, responders were asked, "Since September 2004, in my unit: sexual harassment occurs." The 2009 survey widened the scope of the question to the entire Academy rather than a responder's unit.

"Gender relations, while not perfect, are better than the latest available Air Force average," Colonel Therianos said. Fewer than 10 percent of women at the Academy have experienced unwanted sexual attention, compared to 18 percent of women Air Force-wide in 2006; 1 percent of women have experienced sexual coercion at the Academy, compared to 4 percent of women across the Air Force.

One of the new questions in the 2009 survey addressed physical safety, the third area of concern.

Fifty-nine women (47 cadets out of 395 and 12 permanent party out of 512) and 14 men (14 cadets of 1,365) reported that they feared for their physical safety because of their gender. Thirty-three responders said they fear for their physical safety due to religion: 19 Christians, seven non-Christians and seven non-religious responders. Twenty-four people said they feared for their safety due to their race: 14 Caucasians, three minority responders and seven people who did not select a race.

"We take this very seriously. One incident is one too many," Colonel Therianos said. "We need to focus on respect because this affects everyone -- both majority and minority responders have expressed concern over physical safety."

Gender is the primary reason that cadets and permanent party personnel responded they have experienced or witnessed harassment or discrimination, the fourth area of concern. Women said they experienced (39 percent) and/or witnessed (75 percent) discrimination or harassment due to their gender. While men experienced (4 percent) and/or witnessed (10 percent) discrimination or harassment at a lower rate, it is still an issue, Colonel Therianos said.

Both men and women responded that women are generally less accepted in the Cadet Wing, but the acceptance rate has improved since 2007. Acceptance trends are generally positive in other areas as well, with the exception of sexual preference: 17 percent of cadets who responded said they have become less accepting of gays and lesbians since coming to the Air Force Academy.

"Acceptance reflects respect for human dignity and appreciation of diversity, which is part of character development," Colonel Therianos said. "In a perfect world, we would have all categories move significantly toward becoming more accepting of those who are different than us."

The Academy's senior leaders have embraced these challenges. Both General Gould and Academy Command Chief Master Sgt. Todd Salzman have emphasized respect at every commander's call since General Gould took command in June 2009. In addition, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz emphasized respect when he spoke to the Academy's permanent party personnel Oct. 27.

Just this week, the Academy hired a chief diversity officer, who will oversee implementation of an extensive, Academy-wide diversity plan, General Gould said.

In the area of religious freedom, the Cadet Wing Chaplain Staff has reinforced respect at all levels. A "free exercise of religion" course during Basic Cadet Training in June set the ground rules for new basics. Senior leaders will solicit feedback from nationally recognized faith group leaders during a religious respect conference in mid-November.

In the areas of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, ongoing women's forums here allow female cadets to discuss issues with permanent party members. Past meetings have drawn positive feedback from cadets, with 94 percent of responders saying the forums were relevant and 92 percent asking for the forums to continue.

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program here is also robust, Colonel Therianos said. Sexual assault prevention programs include the "Sex Signals" comedy show and briefings during newcomer and new faculty orientation to set expectations for behavior among cadets and staff.

Regarding racial relations and religious freedom, cadet-run programs have helped improve the climate here, Colonel Therianos said. Personal Education and Ethics Representatives, or PEERs, are integrated into each cadet squadron, have "a great sense of ground truth" and are trusted within the Cadet Wing. Cadet multicultural and interfaith councils comprise leaders from respective clubs and demographic groups, promote respect and help raise issues within the Cadet Wing to senior leaders.

"A lot of people have put in a lot of work both to continually improve the climate at the Academy and to conduct this survey," General Gould said. "I'm confident we're reaching out to all cadets and permanent party to address their challenges and improve our strengths. I know we're moving in the right direction."

The A5/A8/A9 staff will review survey questions to improve the next survey's accuracy, make future surveys more actionable and maintain trending questions where possible. For a copy of the 2009 survey results, go to www.usafa.af.mil and click on "2009/2010 Climate Assessment Survey" under the "Spotlights" section.

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