diversity, equity, & inclusion | An AACN Faculty Tool Kit

Campus Climate and Intergroup Relations

Campus Climate and Intergroup Relations refers to the culture and climate environment within schools of nursing. Inclusive learning environments are characterized by meaningful interactions among persons and groups representing different traits, perceptions, and experiences. This is a prerequisite for excellence in nursing education. This dimension addresses the overall climate and group interactions across the learning environment. A growing body of research has linked students’ sense of belonging to important outcomes, such as academic success, persistence, and well-being. Climate and culture focus on the interactions among groups and the level of intercultural development. This section will suggest a process for conducting a climate survey and describe how to establish intergroup dialogue in schools of nursing.

Conduct a Climate Survey

Definition: The campus climate (climate within a school of nursing) is the current attitude, behaviors, belief systems of the faculty, students, staff, and academic leadership concerning the level of respect for the individual needs, abilities, and perceived potential, including the curriculum and the hidden curriculum (Zosel, 2018).

  • Campus climate and campus culture are often used interchangeably. However, they are two separate concepts.
  • Campus culture represents the beliefs, values, and assumptions that provide the identity and set the standards of behavior (Schein).
    • Culture is more difficult to change than climate
  • Campus climate is how students, faculty, and staff perceive and experience an institution’s environment.
  • Campus climate has been described using a variety of descriptors: chilly, warm, hostile, open, inviting, exclusive, inclusive, welcoming, negative, healthy, and tense (Hall & Sadler, 1982; Vaccaro, 2010).

Steps to Conducting a Climate Survey

Climate assessment drives a process of continual, data-driven improvement and prompts meaningful changes in policy and practice within a school of nursing. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Decide What You Want to Know
  •  Have a clean rationale for conducting a climate survey and decide what you want to know.
  • Will analysis of data be an individual assessment or is the goal to benchmark for comparison?
Step 2: Seek Stakeholder Support
  • Seek the support of leadership, administration, students, faculty, staff, measurement and evaluations department or personnel (internal or external), institutional review board (IRB), online learning and instruction team, and marketing.
Step 3: Establish the Survey Team
  • DEI officer, DEI committee, researchers, DNP or PhD students, students, faculty staff
Step 4: Develop Methods and Instruments 

There are several choices in approach and methodology.

  • Participate in a multi-institutional study.
  • Work with university-level DEI office or university administration.
  • Work with an independent consultant or research team.
  • Develop an “in-house” instrument with research team.
  • Combine any of the above.


 Learning Across Multidimensional Perspectives© (LAMP)

In response to the national dialogue about race, racism, inclusion, and belonging in academic nursing, Dr. Vernell DeWitty, Chief Diversity Officer at AACN, led the development of a new survey instrument to capture the feelings and experiences of underrepresented minorities in nursing programs. The Learning Across Multidimensional Perspectives© (LAMP) culture and climate survey was developed to provide nursing schools with knowledge on how their learning environments are influencing faculty and students' experiences and outcomes.

For schools looking to conduct a climate survey using LAMP, the key steps in implementing this strategy are:

Step 1: Ensure sample representativeness
  • Collect demographic information to check if it is representative of your population
Step 2: Protect respondents
  • Work with IRB to address informed consent and confidentiality
Step 3: Analyze Data
  • Attention to the data provides opportunities to reflect on the culture and values of a campus, how people are treated, and how they perceive the school with respect to diversity (Hurtado, 1992; Hurtado et al., 2012; Hurtado et al., 1998; Rankin, 2003).
Step 4: Transparency
  • Results should be made available and not reported in any form that would identify and individual.
Step 5: Be cognizant of the overall compositional makeup of the school when analyzing data.
  • Perceptions of the overall population vs perceptions of diverse populations
Step 6: Be cognizant of the importance of disaggregated date to capture differences and inequities.
Step 7: Review themes to identify top three issues that need to improve.
Step 8: Act on the results o Action plan to address themes
  • Establish work groups to address specific themes
  • Plan to reassess the climate continuously at periodic intervals to measure progress and renew investment in the process
Step 9: Measure impact



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Creating a Sense of Belonging (Belongingness)

Definition: A sense of belongingness refers to the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. According to the Belonging theory described by Baumeister, two conditions to impart a sense of belonging include:

  1. Frequent contact between the people involved in the attachment that is typically conflict-free.
  2. An ongoing and continued relationship between individuals.

Students’ sense of ‘belongingness’ and their engagement in academic study have been identified as key contributors to student success. When examining sense of belonging in the classroom setting, two major players emerge: faculty and classmates. Faculty set the tone for student interactions and model respect and valuing (Gayle, Cortez, & Preiss, 2013; Wilson & Gore, 2013). The extant literature shows that students with high levels of belonging speak to having had positive experiences with faculty who exhibit a caring disposition, use active learning techniques, and create safe spaces for expression and debate.

Experiential learning within clinical practice settings is a substantial component of undergraduate nursing education. This study described baccalaureate nursing students’ perception of how their belongingness evolves in clinical learning environments through partnerships with their clinical educator and unit-based nurses.

The students’ described positioning for belongingness, persevering for belongingness, and ultimately, entering into belongingness. Belongingness was depicted as gaining entry into the nursing “atmosphere,” a privileged space unique to each clinical placement. In this space, students were granted access to rich learning and socialization opportunities in alliance with the unit-based nurses. For students unable to secure belongingness, learning within the clinical setting occurred as outsiders, exterior to the nursing atmosphere.

Students described belongingness as possible when their demonstrated competencies were validated by others who had the capacity to optimize their professional socialization and development within the clinical setting.


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Annotated Research Studies

Reid, L. D., & Radhakrishnan, P. (2003). Race matters: The relation between race and general campus climate. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 9(3), 263- 275. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.9.3.263

In an early citation, Reid and Radhakrishnan’s General Campus Climate (GCC) scale measured perceptions of racial and academic climate in a racially diverse sample of graduate students in a university setting. Then researchers revised the GCC subscales from the existing item pool of questions for undergraduate students (alpha = .72). The first subscale measured instructors’ impact on the academic climate (alpha = .75) and the second subscale assessed students’ perceptions of whether instructors and peers viewed them as serious student (alpha = .75). The last subscale measured the students’ perceptions of social and intellectual respect (alpha = .68). African Americans had a more negative view of the general campus and racial and academic climates than did White students. Additional findings showed that academic and racial experiences were the best predictors of both groups’ perception of the GCC. This scale was also published in Race matters: The relation between race and general campus climate.

Tynes, B. M., Rose, C. A., & Markoe, S. (2013). Extending campus life to the Internet: Social Media. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(2), 102-114.

Tynes, Rose and Markoe’s survey examined online stress and the association of online and offline factors influencing racial discrimination in a convenience sample of 217 college students. Hierarchical regression modeling determined that African American students reported more online racial discrimination and online stress and held more negative views of campus racial climate than European American students. Time on social networking sites and discussions of school-related issues were not associated with these perceptions.

Paton, S. J. (2010). Exploring belongingness in nursing practice: A phenomenological study. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/openview/b3544a1dc56d1b8c0279da5205bc4b71/1?p q-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750

Contextual factors and interpersonal dynamics were seen to have a significant bearing on students’ experiences. Clinical leaders/managers who were welcoming, accepting, and supportive, and nursing staff who were inclusive and encouraging, facilitated students’ perception of being valued and respected as members of the nursing team. Additionally, the provision of consistent, quality mentorship was identified as important to students’ feelings of connectedness and fit. The experience of belongingness, in turn, enhanced students’ potential for learning and influenced their future career decisions. Alternatively, alienation resulted from unreceptive and unwelcoming clinical environments and from the dissonance created when students’ personal and professional values did not articulate with those evident in practice environments. Consequently, distress, detachment, and disengagement occurred and students’ capacity and motivation for learning were negatively impacted.

Grobecker, P.A. (2016). A sense of belonging and perceived stress among baccalaureate nursing students in clinical placements, Nurse Education Today, 36, 178-183, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2015.09.015

Grobecker used the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10), Belongingness Scale in Clinical Placement Experience (BES-CPE), and demographic questionnaire to examine the relationship between a sense of belonging and perceived stress in baccalaureate nursing students 18 or older who completed one clinical experience. The scale was administered online through SurveyMonkey®. Students were recruited from the National Student Nurses Association database. There was an inverse relationship between sense of belonging and perceived stress in nursing students (r = − .277). The BES-CPE is a reliable and valid instrument for measuring sense of belonging on students' learning, motivation and confidence in clinical placement, while perceived stress had negative consequences on the students' self-concept, learning skills and competence.

Additional Research on Belongingness

  • Duddle and Boughton (2009) tested the psychometric properties of the Nursing Workplace Relational Environment Scale (NWRES). The scale was developed over a three-stage process. Stage 1 - key concepts developed based on extensive literature review (collegiality, workplace conflict and job satisfaction); Stage 2 - pool of items derived from each concept resulting in a 35-item scale that was piloted on 31 nurses; and Stage 3 - development of a 28-item scale administered to a sample of 150 nurses. Exploratory factor analysis resulted in a 22-item scale with fourfactor structure: collegial behaviors, relational atmosphere, outcomes of conflict and job satisfaction that explained 68·12% of the total variance. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the scale was 0·872 and subscales ranged from 0·781–0·927. The scale was effective in measuring the reliability and validity of the NWRES.
  • Cockshaw, Grove, Shochet, and Obst (2014) investigated longitudinal associations between general belonging, workplace belonging, and depressive symptoms in 221working adults at two time points three months apart with the Sense of Belonging Instrument-Psychological (SOBI-P), Psychological Sense of Organizational Membership (PSOM) scale, Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21), and Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). Depressive symptoms influenced future belongingness cognitions. Reduced belongingness precipitated a rapid increase in depressive symptoms that influence longer term belongingness cognitions. Belongingness cognitions were the proximal antecedent of a depressive response. Practitioners should monitor a general sense of belonging and perceived relational value cues in specific contexts.
  • In 2014, Moors, Malley, and Stewart tested the Workplace Sense of Belonging Scale and fit with department (workplace) environment surrounding support for balancing work and family responsibilities for postdoctoral students in science, technology, engineering, math, and medical science (STEM) and non-STEM scholars across 19 colleges, schools, and institutes at a large research university in the U.S. The Workplace Sense of Belonging Scale uses a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Reliability analysis of this instrument yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .74.
  • Wilson and colleagues (2015) measured multiple levels of belonging and behavioral and emotional engagement in undergraduate students in STEM programs in the United States. Results from 1,300 respondent surveys clearly supported the importance of belonging for behavioral and emotional engagement when measured in the context of the classroom. Another important finding was that belonging at the class level influenced positive emotional engagement, while belonging at the university had less influence on positive emotional engagement.
  • Strayhorn (2008) particularly explored the sense of belonging of black men at predominately white universities, addressing a specific literature gap, utilizing the College Student Experiences Questionnaire. With a sample of N=531 (231 black men, 300 white men) A significant predictor for both groups were cross-racial interactions, however, significant for Black men only were interactions with peers with different interests.
  • Sedgwick, Oosterbroek, and Ponomar (2014) explored factors influencing sense of belonging of minority students during clinical experiences in a mixed method study. Results yielded of sense of belonging of minority students was dependent upon interactions with nurses, faculty, and student colleagues. Each interaction, negative or positive, has the potential to influence belonging.
  • Vivekananda-Schmidt and Sandars (2018) conducted a scoping review to map the published research in the wider higher education literature (including undergraduate health professions education). PubMed and ERIC were used. Only peer-reviewed articles in the English language between 1996 and 2016 were included. Fifty-one relevant articles were identified with 16 related to nurse clinical education. Commonalities were identified within several definitions of belongingness. A thematic analysis of articles revealed that belongingness has an important role in student motivation and learning identity formation and in facilitating positive mental health. The scoping review highlighted the importance of belongingness in higher and undergraduate health professions education, with implications for future practice and policy and implications for curriculum development and delivery, including clinical placements, within secondary and primary care health professional education.

 Intergroup Dialogue

Definition: Intergroup dialogue (IGD) is defined as "a co-learning space among people from diverse backgrounds" (Nagada, 2017, p. 29) and is a method to engage in sociocultural conversations. The skills of dialogue include developing a critical awareness of social identities, understanding one’s own connections to power, privilege, and oppression, and developing interpersonal communication skills such as active listening, purposeful sending, and providing feedback. By creating a foundation of communication using IGD, organizations can consistently evaluate the climate.

The IGD Framework

Intergroup dialogue can impact the campus climate and build safe spaces for vulnerability and honesty that ultimately leads to supportive environments of acceptance and belonging. The IGD framework offers a structured inclusive method to connect and communicate through the following: 

  • Safe space to build  a community of trust  where all can speak, and all must listen. Creating a safe space for an institution is never done.
  • Facilitator establishes the rule of engagement.
  • Facilitators  prepare for the unanticipated consequences of open discussion.
  • The discussion's environment should be chosen, considering the audience and their level of comfort within the environment. Vulnerability is key.
  • This process must be repeated and supported by faculty, students, and administrative leadership.
  • Engage in mission-driven commitment to health equity.


  • Through IGD, students engage in explorations of societal issues and historical injustices.
  • Participate in discussion in a safe yet communal space where individuals can express anger, fear, or resentment about injustice.

Create a Sense of Belonging and Connectedness
Sense of belonging and connectedness exert a powerful influence on productivity as well as experiences of lack of inclusiveness in rapidly changing and complex healthcare systems worldwide. Sense of belonging is important in providing safe, effective, and culturally sensitive health care to diverse populations.

Courageous Conversations

Definition: Courageous Conversations have been defined as utilizing agreements and conditions to engage, sustain, and deepen interracial dialogue about race in order to improve student success (Singleton, 2005, p. 26). Language and communication provide the foundation of our cultures and, through the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and perspectives, individuals can create shared values. Singleton offers conditions for guiding these conversations:

  • Engage through your own personal racial experiences, beliefs, and perspectives while demonstrating respectful understanding of specific historical as well as contemporary, local, and immediate racial contexts.
  • Sustain yourself and others in conversations through appreciative inquiry into multiple perspectives, beliefs, and experiences that are different than your own.
  • Deepen your understanding of Whiteness and interrogate your beliefs about your own association with and relationships to racial privilege and power.

When nursing educators develop greater understanding and develop the capacity for engaging in courageous conversations, they will better enhance academic advancement for all students and increase equity in learning environments.


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In this Section

This section will provide strategies and tools for developing the human and institutional resources needed to fulfill the school of nursing's broader institutional mission as well as the nursing profession's mission related to DEI.

Click on the links below to navigate throughout the section.



Institutional Viability & Capacity

Access & Success

Climate & Intergroup Relations

Education & Scholarship