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Survey gauges student needs

Anne-Marie Woods | Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In the spring student survey conducted by student government, Notre Dame undergraduate students were given the opportunity to evaluate the current status of critical campus issues, as well as voice concerns and opinions about what they want student government to pursue in the 2009-2010 academic year.

“The student survey is a great way for student government to ensure we’re focusing our efforts in the right direction,” former student body president Bob Reish said. “It doesn’t completely guide the actions of our office, but it does make sure we are continually aware of the opinions of the student body.”

A total of 3,609 surveys were received, with 93 percent of those students completing the survey in its entirety, about 100 less than the first survey in the fall of 2008. Former student body president Bob Reish attributes the decrease in surveys to one less e-mail sent out to the student body, but he is optimistic about the turnout.

“Students completed the surveys this semester because they saw the results from last semester,” Reish said.

The feedback from the first survey resulted in the DVD club, the Last Lecture series, the addition of printers to every dorm and a reevaluation of the University’s sexual assault policy.

For this semester’s survey, student government individually examined the results of the survey by class year, gender and location, either on- or off-campus. The results of the survey enabled student government to evaluate the concerns of the student body and assess the disparities in the percentages for these factors, Reish said.

Using both survey questions and free-response sections, student government considered several topics, including on-campus alcohol policies, University sexual assault policies, sustainability, the University’s relationship with the community, off-campus housing and taxi prices. In addition, students raised many other critical issues in free response sections, emphasizing the need for greater involvement of the University administration and student government in addressing these problems, Reish said.

A major topic of concern was the on-campus alcohol policy, specifically the Good Samaritan clause, which allows students to intervene and help their friends who are intoxicated and in need of care, without facing punishment if they are intoxicated themselves.

When asked in the survey “how frequently do you encounter a fellow student who is alone and feeling sick or injured due to alcohol,” 33 percent of students participating in the survey answered two times per semester or more, a significant percentage of the student body, Reish said.

“The Residence Life Committee has been researching other universities like Notre Dame with similar policies to see how they deal with the issue,” Student Outreach Committee chair Sarah Rodts said. “Saint Mary’s has the Good Samaritan policy, but Notre Dame does not.”

In addition, as student government works with the administration on the University’s current sexual assault policy as outlined in duLac, an important question in the survey was students’ familiarity with the policy itself.

Forty-six percent of students surveyed said they were “somewhat familiar” with the policy while 15.8 percent said they were “not familiar at all.”

Recognizing that less than half of students expressed they were somewhat­ familiar with the University’s policy, Rodts said this is still not where the student body needs to be.

The greatest difference between males and females in the survey was in the discussion of the University’s “Spirit of Inclusion” statement. The University states that “we welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class and nationality.”

When asked if they were aware of the statement, only 22.4 percent of students had heard of it and knew something about it, whereas 40.7 percent had not heard of the statement at all. Of those students who did not know about it, 38 percent were female and 50 percent were male, the only difference greater than five percent in the survey.

Additionally, in both the survey question and free response, students commented on the insufficient support services for gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning students at Notre Dame.

“This is important because there isn’t a club,” Rodts said. “The club is usually turned down because [the administration] says there are sufficient support services.”

Student government hopes to continue the student survey in order to make certain each student has the opportunity to have his or her voice heard, Reish said.

With the change in student government leadership, the results of the survey will be evaluated and considered by student body president Grant Schmidt and the 2009-2010 student government. The student feedback will help outline important issues for the coming year and enable student government along with the administration to address the changing needs of the student body.