Survey shows mixed thoughts on campus diversity, life out of class

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Interaction between students from different cultures remains a substantial problem on the Oswego State campus, according to the results of the latest survey administered to faculty and students.

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Results from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) show 51 percent of seniors who took the survey feel that the college puts "very little" or "some" emphasis on encouraging contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds, while only 49 percent feel the college puts "quite a bit" or "very much" emphasis on it. Faculty also agreed with the slim majority, with only 38 percent of lower division and upper division professors feeling that the school puts "quite a bit" or "very much" emphasis on it.

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The NSSE, administered once every three years to Oswego State students, most recently in 2008, helps obtain information "about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development," according to their Web site. More than 150 faculty, 265 first-year students, and 471 seniors participated in the survey.

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Mehran Nojan, Oswego State’s director of Institutional Research, says some of the results from questions in the survey could be misleading. Nojan, who is in charge of administering the survey and analyzing its results, has said that the college is choosing to take a more optimistic approach to the findings. She said that administrative officials are putting more of an emphasis on how to get students onto the more acceptable side of the spectrum instead of trying to focus all their resources on the small portion that feels the college doesn’t do enough. Out of the 51 percent who felt the college does "some" or "very little," 17 percent were from the "very little" category.

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"No matter how good the survey is, it will never find a solution," she said. "But it will direct us to the areas that need attention."

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Cathy Santos, the associate provost for Multicultural Opportunities and Programs, said there are an abundance of activities on campus that encourage contact among diverse groups of students, including the ALANA Conferences, Student Association Programming Board and the variety of lecturers from different backgrounds that speak on campus. Santos said she is also developing her own survey that will hopefully help distinguish the specific problems students are having.

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"We are hoping to develope a campus climate survey that woe can administer to students and faculty," she said. "The goal would be to give a more comprehensive picture of where we are in regards to diversity on campus."

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Oswego State Provost Susan Coultrap-McQuin agreed that procedures are already being taken in hopes of making the college’s emphasis on multicultural interaction more clear.

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"We are hoping through curricular and extra-curricular activities to encourage students to learn from one another," Coultrap-McQuin said in an e-mail. "Research suggests that the strongest learning environments are those that are very diverse."

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Results from other survey questions also revealed a somewhat chilly relationship between faculty members and even among fellow students. Nineteen percent of seniors felt that the quality of their relationships with other students was either neutral or negative, while 24 percent felt that their quality of relationship with faculty members was also not positive. Even more stunning, a whopping 54 percent of seniors felt that their quality of relationship with administrative personnel and offices was neutral or negative, while 49 percent of first year students felt like-wise.

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The problem with some of these survey questions though, said Nojan, is the numerous ways that questions can be interpreted. She noted that it is hard to pinpoint what students exactly are meaning when they consider the "quality" of relationships. This, in turn, makes it hard for officials to interpret how to go about trying to fix such problems.

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"This is one of the issues that we really need to look into," she said. "These are very loaded questions. This is one area though that we want to explore more with students."

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A large majority of students also seemed willing to put a line between their educational life and their social life, with 73 percent of seniors saying that the institution puts only "some" to "very little" emphasis on helping students cope with non-academic responsibilities, with about 68 percent of faculty members agreeing. Another 57 percent of seniors felt that the college puts "some" to "very little" emphasis on providing the support needed to thrive socially, and 52 percent of first year students also taking that stand.

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"It’s possible that the reason behind students thinking this way is because they aren’t aware of the programs set up to help with social and non-academic issues, Coultrap-McQuin said.

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"The Extended Learning Office, for example, provides evening degree programs and online learning to help students balance their non-academic responsibilities. They advise non-traditional students on pathways to success. Our residence programs, Student Affairs offices, Student Association, and other groups offer many activities to support an engaging social life."

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Despite questionable results to some of the survey questions, Nojan stressed the NSSE remains a valuable tool to helping Oswego State figure out not only where it needs work but also what areas it excels in. Combined with the ACT’s Student Opinion Survey, which is also administered every three years, Nojan said they help keep administrators in the loop with the evolving culture of college and its students.

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"We do these not just to identify weaknesses," she said, "but to also know where changes in areas need to be made and whether students like changes."