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April 6, 2023

Building respectful workspaces and empowering units to create sustainable change

Units or departments that experience gender-based violence can carry lasting impacts, affecting faculty, staff, students and the overall working and learning environment. Michigan State University’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Department provides a path to navigate these dynamics through their Climate and Response Unit.

Lydia Weiss
Lydia Weiss

Lydia Weiss, the assistant director of POE’s Climate Response Unit, was instrumental in developing this program that launched in 2019 — less than one year after POE’s founding. Since then, the program has worked with 40 units or teams on campus and is currently working with 15.

“We work with units that have been impacted by gender-based violence to some degree,” said Weiss. “Often after an investigation of a policy violation or harm that has happened in the unit.”

To engage in Climate and Response work, a unit or leader starts by participating in an intake process that allows the climate and response team to understand what has taken place in the unit and how they can assist in helping the unit find pathways forward. Once the intake process is complete, the team presents a customized plan with a values-based approach to help.

Weiss explained one goal for all participating units or colleges is to have a revised sustainability plan at the completion of this process that is trauma-informed, thoughtful about gender-based dynamics and leaves leaders feeling empowered to continue to positively shift the climate.

“Recognizing that when harm happens in a community, the impact often goes beyond the people directly involved,” said Weiss. “We heal in community, and helping people move toward that is a big part of guiding the work we do.”

There are many levels of impact that a unit might experience, so the Climate and Response team offers several different levels of engagement ranging from departmental leadership consultations that help guide them in how best to support their unit to a full climate and response process. This expanded process is a robust, multi-layered approach to pinpointing the main issues of impact including collecting data through team listening sessions and gathering leader perspectives to inform the process.

“They understand their climate from the inside of a unit at a much deeper level. We utilize this information to facilitate that process for moving forward in a mindful and trauma-informed way,” said Weiss. “We help people know that they are really not alone in this, and someone outside their unit can provide them support.”

POE currently collects anecdotal data to evaluate Climate and Response work. However, the unit recently was awarded the Institutional Courage Grant from the Center for Institutional Courage to continue the development of a formal process to evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives.

If your unit or team is facing challenges as a result of gender-based violence, you can request a consultation with POE by emailing The Climate and Response team supports units, departments and teams of any size. If POE is not the best support option, the team can provide recommendations for other resources on campus that may be better suited to help.

Signs of an unhealthy work or learning climate to watch for include historical harms that haven’t been tended to, microaggressions, discrimination and harassment, among others. For a proactive approach to assessing the climate of your own team, POE, in collaboration with Human Resources and Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs, created a Climate Assessment Toolkit. Leaders are encouraged to independently access this toolkit as a way of better understanding the climate of their team or unit.

Learn more about the Prevention, Outreach and Education Department’s Climate and Response Unit and its services.

By: Chris Chapman