Focus Groups with Students, Faculty & Staff

Programmatic Excellence and Innovation in Planning 2012-13 Project

PI: Sarah Taylor, Assistant Professor of Social Work

Presentations: (1) Presentation of the Focus Groups project at the Ethnographic & Qualitative Research Conference, February/2014 (click to view). (2) Isobel Marcus’ MSW Thesis, “Critical Community Involvement at CSUEB: Exploring Barriers and Motivators”, supervised by Sarah Taylor, June/2013 (click to view).


The objective was to explore how to advance our Institutional Learning Objective (ILO), adopted in Spring of 2012, that graduates should be able to Apply knowledge of diversity and multicultural competencies to promote equity and social justice in our communities? The study's were research questions:

  1. How does this highly diverse student body influence the type of academic community we co-create?
  2. How do students, faculty, and staff understand diversity?
  3. How well are we teaching and learning about diversity?
  4. How well are we creating an inclusive environment?


There were separate groups for staff (1 group), faculty (2 groups), graduate students, (2 groups), STEM undergraduate students (2 groups), and all other undergraduate students (4 groups).

There were 11 focus groups with 46 participants, including 27 students, 11 faculty, and 8 staff. Participants' race/ethnicity included 22% African American, 24% European American, 24% API American, and 13% multiple ethnicities.


All groups were facilitated by a professional consultant with experience in diversity and social justice and in leading focus groups. The leadership team provided a semi-structured focus group protocol. Topics included:

  • Conceptualizations of diversity, social justice, and civic engagement
  • How curricular and co-curricular activities currently address diversity, social justice, and civic engagement, including the explicit and implicit curriculum
  • Suggestions for how curricular and co-curricular activities should address diversity, social justice, and civic engagement

The focus group opening consisted of:

  • On the index card I'm giving to you, please take a few minutes to jot down the first 5 words that come into your head when I say "diversity and social justice".
  • Great, thanks. Can we go around the room and share the words? I'm going to write all the words you said on the white board. You can skip your turn if you don't feel comfortable.
  • Looking at our white board, and thinking about your classes and extra-curricular activities at CSU East Bay, please share any thoughts you have about what's written there (a-f prompt only as needed).
    1. Are there any words that seem especially important to you? Why?
    2. Are there any words that seem to be missing?
    3. Are there any words there that you have a question about?
    4. How are these words reflected in the content of your classes?
    5. How are these words reflected in the way your professors teach (e.g. how they manage the classroom, how they behave in office hours, etc.)
    6. How are these words reflected in your extra-curricular activities?


How Does This Highly Diverse Student Body Influence The Type Of Academic Community We Co-create?

Our diversity provides wonderful opportunities for learning, but we don't always capitalize on it. Just "showing up" to school or work in a diverse setting isn't enough. Team-based projects can facilitate learning among diverse students, if well-executed.

Group activities is number one in my opinion in getting to know other people of different diversity…I was put in this group with…I didn’t choose my teammates. .. that was such an amazing experience that the grade did not matter, because we overcame diversity. We overcame the perceptions that we have of one another and got this accomplished. - STEM Student

I have a lot of classes that require …a lot of group projects. It's been really difficult…Even though the instructor has this premise that putting us together, that it will achieve some form of diversity or add to this paper – we all end up being very separate. How it comes across, the work is still done; however, our critique on assignments usually is that we aren't collaboratively together, still separate. - Undergrad Student

How Do Students, Faculty, And Staff Understand Diversity?

Faculty, students, and staff see diversity as very broad. Some faculty and grad students worry about race being de-emphasized.

Racism has to be on the table. - Faculty Member

Race is a big one actually, because some of us have experienced racial inequality or situations that have just not been ... where you have been disenfranchised because of your race. - Grad Student

How Well Are We Teaching And Learning About Diversity?

Mixed reviews. Everyone is too busy. Some faculty are exemplary. Others need support and training.

I think most professors try to be fair, so fairness, but there’s not a lot of ... to me, professors are so scared. There's not a lot of expression of anything else. We try to be fair, not offend anyone with what I have to say or anything that I'm teaching, but it doesn't go past that ... there's not a lot of discussion about different things like gender or awareness or culture or education. - Undergrad student

How Well Are We Creating An Inclusive Environment?

Mixed reviews. Everyone is too busy. Some individuals go the "extra mile". There are disconnects between faculty, students, staff, and administration.

They want to engage this process as a downstream process, so moving downstream in this clearly hierarchal structure ... How about it flows upstream and changes the management culture? - Staff Member

It's kind of like a rat race, kind of like a maze. They have an expectation that I'll figure out the campus but in so many departments and processes, what is the general purpose? Why do you have a Dean of this or that? What is the connection? - Undergrad Student
I feel like there’s a lot of opportunities and there are people that want to do certain things, but I feel like there’s also this sense of disconnect where there are these amazing professors but they are also kind of underpaid. They have their own lives to run outside of school and a lot of them are already taking on a lot of other activities. - Undergrad Student

I didn't come prepared for this job ... I'm in quarter two, and I'm just a little ahead of the students mainly because it's content I haven't taught ... But I think ... in terms of the system issue and systemic change, and if we're about social justice as an institution, then it's going to really cause more work for us, the instructors, and collaborative work in my opinion is the best way to go at that. - Faculty Member

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