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Survey examines relationship obstacles

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

With March Madness betting in full swing, constant streams of instant messages and an ever-expanding Facebook universe – high school students now included – it’s undeniable Notre Dame students face a great deal of distraction from their classes, work and even traditional social lives.

And now, the University is looking into it.

This week, the University Cyber Vice and Gambling task forces sent 1,000 students a “Healthy Relationships Survey” in order to examine how certain behaviors, such as instant messaging and viewing pornography, could negatively affect interaction among Notre Dame undergraduates.

Survey recipients – chosen at random, according to assistant director of the Office of Institutional Research Mark Gunty – were asked to go through six pages of questions that mainly focus on the student’s observations on or personal experiences with activities like instant messaging, browsing Facebook and the Internet, viewing on-line and print pornography, playing “graphically violent” video games and various forms of gambling.

A final write-in section is available for the student to detail his or her opinion on the positive and negative effects the listed activities can have on a person’s ability to form healthy relationships. Responses are kept anonymous, according to the survey’s introduction.

Gunty, who also sits on the Cyber Vice Task Force, said the purpose of the survey is to provide the task forces with a grounding in the empirical evidence of student experience in regards to the issues each group is addressing.

Led by Office of Residence Life and Housing director Jeff Shoup, the Task Force on Gambling is an informal group housed under the Office of Student Affairs that is examining the problem of Internet and in-person gambling at Notre Dame, according to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Bill Kirk.

Kirk said the group is using the survey results to supplement the information about gambling on campus gathered over the semester at several rector and student focus groups.

The Cyber Vice Task Force, formed under the Gender Resource Center by GRC director Heather Rakoczy, will meet three times during the next month with the aim to “increase awareness, education and dialogue by addressing high-risk on-line behaviors that can be obstacles to healthy relationships,” Rakoczy said.

Its almost 30 members – composed of equal numbers of men and women, and faculty and students, Rakoczy said – plan to discuss the nature of the “high-risk on-line behaviors” like viewing pornography, instant messaging and using sites like Facebook, and come up with strategies for solutions.

Both Kirk and Rakoczy said the groups hope to provide Student Affairs with a report or recommendation on how best to deal with their respective researched problems, potentially by the end of the semester.

Gunty said the similar interests of both task groups allowed him to combine their questions into one survey.

“As I understand it, both conversations are basically about how to promote healthy relationships and have a focus on doing something about these things that are obstacles to healthy relationships,” Gunty said. “On the one hand, there’s gambling, which is not only unhealthy to relationships but to individuals, and the other group sees that so much of relating now has some component on the Internet that they’re just wondering what effect this has on relationships.”

Gunty said he received an e-mail from one of the survey recipients who called its “Healthy Relationships” title a misnomer, because respondents were not given time to talk about gender relations on campus.

Gunty defended the survey title, saying that while it might be “a little misleading” because of the heavy connotations the phrase “healthy relationships” carries at Notre Dame in terms of gender relations, he still chose the name “because the ultimate concern about these behaviors is their effect on relationships, so we’re taking the term [‘healthy relationships’] in a much broader sense.”

Gunty said he will present a set of preliminary results to the Cyber Vice Task Force at the group’s first meeting Friday. As of Tuesday, only 25 percent of survey recipients had responded.