Survey Examines Student Life

By Philip Bohlman

During Winter Term, the SGA conducted its biennial student life survey, with 1,438 students completing the survey of eight sections, from Academic Life to Dining. Of that number, only 40 percent of respondents were male students.

In constructing the survey, SGA Chief of Staff Danny Zhang ’15 said he and SGA President Taylor Custer ’15 solicited questions from Senate and Cabinet members. Additionally, they reached out to “stakeholders” in the College community, including Health and Wellness, CCI, Public Safety, and Student Activities in adjusting the wording of questions.

“Many of the questions were taken from the previous survey two years ago, since one of President Charlie Arnowitz’s goals of starting the survey was to have some continuity in the questions so we could track student opinion over time. There were also a lot of new questions on issues more pertinent to the campus now,” wrote Zhang in an email.

In consulting with SGA members, Zhang shared some results he had found surprising. There were a number of questions on academic life, many of which were contributed by the Student Educational Affairs Committee.

“Even though the first year seminar program is focused on writing skills, the skill that students most think should receive more attention in their first year seminar was writing and editing,” wrote Zhang.

In the social life category, Zhang pointed to results that seemed to contradict vocalized unhappiness with social life. 58 percent of students are either satisfied or strongly satisfied with their social life at Middlebury and only 3 percent more students said their social life has gotten “much worse/somewhat worse” than “somewhat better/much better.”

Zhang felt that there was a lower percentage of students than he expected who knew who was the SGA President (69 percent) and Student Co-Chair (19 percent) of Community Council, saying that the SGA had to better market itself.

“11.5 percent of students who answered the survey said they sometime take dishes from the dining hall and forget to put them back. That seems incredibly high to me and would explain why so many dishes go missing so quickly!” said Zhang.

The Student Life Survey began two years ago under Arnowitz. The survey has retained some of the same problems, most prominently the underrepresentation of male students, but the questions have been finessed, according to Zhang. He estimates that 150 more students completed the survey this year than in 2013.

According to Senator Michael Brady ’17.5, the SGA under Arnowitz initially planned to conduct the survey every other year due to a fear of “survey fatigue.”

As the SGA looks to the future, it will take into account the overwhelming (92 percent) willingness students expressed to fill out the survey annually.

“The yearly survey is definitely something that Taylor wants to move towards. I think that says something about how much students on this campus care about their community and reflects a strong desire to be heard in the college decision-making process,” Zhang said.

When asked about tackling the gender imbalance in the survey, Brady considers the selection of prizes as perhaps being slanted towards female students as a possible reason for the disparity between genders in completing the survey.

“I hope that with prizes and other incentives that this valuable data can be collected every year. It’s a valuable tool to communicate some student sentiment to the administration about what they want to see changed on campus,” said Brady.

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