Part 1: Understanding the Context

It is important to set a strong foundation and understand the context of the work in which you and your department are about to engage. A strong foundation and context provides clarity and purpose. A purpose for which you may return for inspiration or need to be reminded of from time to time as you engage in this nonlinear approach and culture change project. By engaging in Part 1, you are already taking steps towards fostering a healthy climate.

Overall Context

DEIBlueprint is designed to help decision-makers in academic departments assess the current climate and create and implement a plan to build a healthy climate within their academic community for all constituents. Climate includes the general beliefs, values, perceptions and norms of the department. A healthy academic climate is an environment where all can thrive and succeed and where values of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and justice (DEIBJ) are manifested. Sustaining a healthy academic climate includes “promoting an environment that supports every person in an atmosphere of mutual respect, cooperation, professionalism, and fairness. Realization of this commitment requires awareness and active participation by every member of our community” (UC Office of the President). 

All too often, departments are on their own, trying to effectively implement initiatives from campus-wide surveys, fashioning original department climate surveys, analyzing their data, and conjuring action steps in response. This process is time-consuming, often error-prone, sometimes expensive, and potentially uninformed by campus expertise. 

By engaging in Parts 1 through 6, departments will commit to an approach that has an overall aim of making departments more inclusive for all. Two main elements of this approach include completing a Climate Survey (Part 3) to discover strengths and opportunities of the department, and using resources and strategies in the Toolkit (Part 5) to implement responsive actions.

Guiding Principles

Guided by the Principles of Community on each campus (Berkeley, Davis, San Francisco), we strive to realize our values in everything we do, including this process. We hope you will notice as you go through this approach:

  • We are grounded in social justice. We understand that racism, sexism, classism and other forms of othering are rooted in oppression and that oppression is intersectional, so our approach must also be intersectional. We commit ourselves to expanding access, practicing inclusion, and undoing oppression wherever and whenever possible.

  • We believe safety is a right. Every human in our community should receive respect for their bodily and emotional integrity and autonomy -- always, in every situation.

  • We practice self-care and kindness. Work grounded in these practices is more sustainable, effective, and transformative.

  • We seek and value the wisdom of our community. We take a communal and collective approach to our work, knowing that we are all learning from each other.

  • We are optimistic and hopeful. We know that, as a community, we can eliminate unhealthy academic climates and create the campus community we want.

A Socioecological Perspective

Further, this approach is ecological – that is, it goes beyond the education of individuals to look at how relationships, community norms and standards, institutional policies, and broader societal values intersect with academic climate, and it encourages departments to think and plan accordingly.

This image, called the Social Ecological model1, visualizes this.

A Socioecological Perspective

Taking a socioecological approach means that this process is really a culture change project or about change management. Improving or changing the climate and culture of a department, College, or School is challenging; but the rewards are even greater.

Managing change is about setting the direction at the leadership level and engaging the community at all levels. It may include using incentives, reinventing or reorientating. It will include strengthening positive behaviors and attitudes, and building capabilities and commitment. Ultimately, the department’s ability to learn from its experiences is a valid measure of success in this process.

This image, called the Climate Continuum2, visualizes this progression of change. The continuum emphasizes that the goal of improving climate can be everchanging and nonlinear, yet there is something tangible for which to aim.

Climate Continuum

The Individual and Organizational Role

“The human condition is one about belonging. We simply cannot thrive unless we are in relationship . . . And so, when you look at what groups are doing, whether they are disability groups or whether they are groups organized around race, they are really trying to make a claim of, “I belong. I’m a member.” john a. powell3

For everyone to take part in building a healthy academic climate, each person needs to have a solid foundation that includes a level of self-awareness and an understanding of the current context of your organization or department.

Before you get started, take time to engage in critical self-reflection.4

  1. How does my own social location, e.g. race, class, gender, religion, etc., shape my mindset about practices and behaviors that I act out?

  2. What more is it that I need to know about culture, power, and difference? Where do I learn this information?

  3. How can I be a more critically conscious leader?

Next, it is important to understand the current context of your organization or department.

  1. What is your department’s purpose, mission and vision?

  2. What are the guiding principles or values?

This information may be demonstrated formally on the department website, hanging on the walls of the department, and written and recorded on documents. Or, this information may be demonstrated informally through storytelling or sayings. Whether this information is documented formally or informally, it exists in the attitudes, behaviors and hidden or visible norms of the community.

  1. What are the current attitudes, norms and behaviors exhibited in your department?

Your community members are regularly demonstrating whether or not they are thriving or whether or not they feel like they belong. They are demonstrating this informally through their productivity and connectedness to department activities or formally through surveys or other forms of feedback. This collective experience, even if experienced by a small group of people and whether positive or negative, can readily turn into the norms or climate of a department. 

Lastly, it is also important to understand you and your department’s motivation for doing this type of work

  1. What are your motivating factors?

Oftentimes, external factors, such as program review or accreditation, motivate a process like this. Other times, an incident or crisis occurs causing reactive actions and solutions. No matter what is motivating you to do this work, it is important to acknowledge and be cognizant of what is motivating you to engage in this work right now. This motivation may change over time.

Through this process you will be collecting your own data of what members of your department may be experiencing. While you may find that a good majority may feel generally positive about the climate in your department, feedback left unaddressed can escalate and become the unwanted culture of the department.


Some of the terms you will see mentioned in this work.

Belonging5: Means more than just being seen. Belonging entails having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of social and cultural structures. Belonging means having the right to contribute to, and make demands on, society and political institutions.

Bystander: A term used to refer to someone who observes or hears about harm happening but is neither the target of the harm nor the perpetrator. Most interpersonal violence happens in the presence of others, and so the field of violence prevention has focused on the role of bystanders as potential agents of change.

Climate6: Described as how members experience (or feel) the campus atmosphere (including the culture) at any given moment. Each member of the campus community (students, staff, and faculty) experiences the campus climate differently. These differences (or lived experiences) with the campus climate (such as what extant literature refers to as a “racially hostile” or “chilly” campus climate) can be linked to the disproportionate outcomes in student persistence, including learning, retention, and graduation rates of BIPOC students. Think of climate as the mood of the institution. 

Culture6: To distinguish and clarify the focus on the campus climate, culture is broadly defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that have been invested, discovered, or developed by a given group and governs (or controls) how people behave in the organization (i.e., a college or university); it is the common or underlying shared beliefs, values, norms of behavior, thinking and emotional intelligence, routines, rituals, traditions, sense-making, perspectives, etc. Think of culture as the personality of the institution.

Diversity7: The variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. Such differences include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and more. Many institutions of higher education focus on groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in top tier research institutions, including women and certain minority groups (including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans).

Equity: As opposed to equality, where everyone receives the same support regardless of circumstance, equity focuses on fair treatment, and access to supports and opportunities necessary for advancement and success. Equity acknowledges structural issues and barriers such as racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, and sexual harassment that have prevented the full participation of individuals from marginalized groups.

Inclusion: The proactive effort through personal actions, programs, and policies to ensure that all individuals feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued, and to identify and address situations in which this is not the case.

Implicit Bias8: Implicit bias, also known as implicit prejudice or implicit attitude, is a negative attitude, of which one is not consciously aware, against a specific social group.

Microaggressions9: Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. (for example: commenting on how well an Asian-American student speaks English, even though the student grew up in Los Angeles).

Oppression10: ​​The combination of prejudice and institutional power which creates a system that discriminates against some groups (often called “target groups”) and benefits other groups (often called “dominant groups”). Examples of these systems are racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and anti-Semitism. These systems enable dominant groups to exert control over target groups by limiting their rights, freedom, and access to basic resources such as health care, education, employment, and housing.

Othering11: Set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. Dimensions of othering include, but are not limited to, religion, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (class), disability, sexual orientation, and skin tone. Although the axes of difference that undergird these expressions of othering vary considerably and are deeply contextual, they contain a similar set of underlying dynamics.

Power12: The ability to influence and make decisions that impact others.

Privilege12: The advantages and benefits that individuals receive because of social groups they are perceived to be a part of. Privilege is often a result of systematic targeting and/or marginalization of another social group.

Social norms: Unwritten beliefs about common behavior in your community. For example, believing that most members of your community would take action to interrupt harassment if they saw it happening. These beliefs inform your own choices to act. Uplifting pro-social norms (such as intervening to stop harassment) has been shown to positively impact such measures as intent to intervene and confidence in intervening.


Part 1 borrows heavily from PATH to Care Center, Toolkit for Preventing Harassment in Academic Departments, UC Berkeley and references these other resources:
1 Dahlberg LL, Krug EG. Violence: a global public health problem. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, eds. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002:1-21.
2 Inspired by and adapted from UC Coro Anti-Racism Learning and Reflection Tool, 2021.
3 Interview by K. Tippett with john a. Powell, Opening to the Question of Belonging, 2020.
4 Lasana Hotep, Racism Without Racist: Rethinking Our Approach Toward Equity Work, 2020.
5 john a. powell, Editors’ Introduction, Issue One, Othering & Belonging Journal, 2016.
6 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE), A Framework for Advancing Anti-Racism Strategy on Campus, 2021.
7 UC Regents Policy 4400
8 Implicit Bias defined by American Psychological Association
9 Racial Microagressions in everyday life: Implicaitons for clinical practice by Sue, D.W. et al.
10 Understanding Privilege and Oppression Handout from Vanderbilt University.
11 john a. powell and Stephen Menendian, The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging
12 Introduction to Power, Privilege, and Social Justice, Dartmouth University.