Beginning in January 2016, Geneseo will require students to submit or opt out of a new SUNY student information survey in order to access KnightWeb. The survey is being implemented across the SUNY system and will ask students demographic questions regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, employment status, first generation status and physical and mental disabilities. According to a page on the Geneseo website, “Geneseo campus decision makers, including all teaching faculty, administrators, deans and department chairs, will not have access to this data. This information will not be associated with students’ academic record and will not be available via normal channels in our student information systems. Students will be able to review their responses and make any needed changes for each fall and spring semester.”
Director of Institutional Research Julie Rao explained that while certain demographic information can be extrapolated from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or the Common Application, not all SUNY students fill out these forms.
“SUNY has been looking at diversity for a while,” Rao said. “When they tried to sit down and systematically look at the data that they had, they realized there were gaps when it came to their knowledge about certain groups.”
According to Rao, some information included in the survey—particularly sexual orientation and gender identity—may be too sensitive to ask on application forms. “If a student wasn’t out to their parents, we wouldn’t want to have that on the application where they might have their parents over their shoulder,” Rao said.
According to a Sept. 30 memo to SUNY campus presidents from SUNY Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, the survey results will be transferred by computer to SUNY System Administration in Albany. Access to the survey results will be restricted and the information will be stored on secure servers.
“They will also have protocols in place so that nobody in Albany is going back and looking at an individual student’s data,” Rao said. “It’s all about collecting it in the aggregate and then looking at those outcomes to know, ‘What’s the size of a population? Do we need to have more services in place? Are we serving them adequately? Are they graduating at the same rates?’”
While Geneseo faculty and staff will not receive information about individual students’ responses, they will receive the breakdown of results in percentages. “Just like SUNY, we’re interested in knowing, ‘How many students do we have out there that we might need to be serving better?’” Rao said.
Rao added that while recent events on college campuses across the nation may have inspired more awareness of diversity, the survey has been in process in the SUNY system for about two years.
“We first heard about this the end of July,” she said. “So while it might seem that it’s a reaction to many of the things that have been going on—especially at the University of Missouri—this is something that’s been on SUNY’s mind for much longer than that.”
Moving forward, the survey will be distributed each semester because, according to Rao, “some of these things can change, especially with sexual orientation and even gender identity as students grow during this very pivotal time in their lives.”
Though SUNY initially wanted Geneseo to administer the survey during Advance Registration, Rao saw that as potentially “interfering” during an already stressful time. Subsequently, Institutional Research decided to administer the survey at the end of the fall semester. In this case, completion would have been required for students to access their course grades.
“We had originally thought about doing it once the SOFIs were done, but then it puts a barrier to students getting their grades during finals week,” she said. “And again, why do we want to do something that’s going to aggravate students during an already stressful time?”
According to Rao, though students must complete the survey to access KnightWeb for spring 2016 registration in January, they can either choose not to answer individual questions or opt out at the end of the survey, deleting any responses they may have given.
Sophomore Miranda Steinberg said she believes students will answer the survey questions to the best of their ability. “I think we go to a super liberal and open-minded school and people are willing to be honest about taboo things,” she said.
Sophomore Andrea Bourdelais shared Steinberg’s sentiment. “I think if it’s anonymous, then people will answer it correctly,” Bourdelais said. “If no one’s going to find out, there are no repercussions and it’s just between you and a computer, why wouldn’t you be honest?”
Rao expressed hopes for a similar outcome. “I hope students take the time to do it, take it seriously and fill it out with honesty,” she said.