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Campus Survey Seeks to Reveal Personal Experience

The survey designed by students, staff, and faculty intends to understand campus belonging (Robert Manor / Index)

#THEsurvey, is a new survey created by the Sense of Belonging Task Force, to help the college find specific solutions to the problems of students of different backgrounds sense of belonging on campus. This is a continuation of the work done by the President’s Task Forces, to examine matters of diversity and inclusion.

“The college established a strategic plan in 2007 and had a goal to be an inclusive student focused campus,” said Dean Sarah Westfall. #THEsurvey, she said, “is a way to gauge where we are and to help chart the course for what we might want to do going forward to help students feel like they belong here. This is the first time that we have explicitly asked this question in a survey.”

The Sense of Belonging Task Force is comprised of students, faculty, and co-chaired by Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students Sarah Westfall and the Director of Faculty Grants & Institutional Research Anne Dueweke.The group began working on the survey late last fall quarter and made it a priority to get the survey out by winter, seeing the topic of belonging as crucial to students’ welfare

“A sense of belonging is critically important to the psychosocial well-being and academic success of all students, and especially to students who may see themselves as part of a marginalized group,” said Dueweke.

Dueweke also commented on how Kalamazoo’s student body has significantly changed over the years which makes challenges of inclusion more difficult for more members of the student body.

“Since its founding, Kalamazoo College has been an almost all white institution. It has also been an institution that has largely served middle to upper class students from Michigan. This has changed dramatically in recent years,” said Dueweke.

Unlike the two previous reports done to document student’s experience with  race and ethnicity, #THEsurvey hopes to transform how the college understands the change in diversity by gathering more conclusive, quantitative, and qualitative data, that the task force can then use to make recommendations to the President on how to take action.

“It’s mostly been focus groups where we have had a chance to talk with students individually face to face about their experiences,” said Dean Westfall, “and what we know is that the college has become a lot more diverse in a lot of ways and that there are some students that still don’t feel fully at home here.”

In order to measure student’s opinions successfully, the survey is comprised of long answer, experience based, rather than simple “yes” or “no” questions.

Roxanna “Roxy” Menchaca ‘15, a student member of the Belonging Task Force agreed that this aspect of the survey can better inform the college, and the recommendations given to the President, on how to approach solving students’ difficulties with belonging on campus.

“I think it is easy to click a button. A person can click, ‘yeah I don’t feel like I belong,’ said Menchaca, “but in what ways, and in what experiences make you feel that can contribute to how or what the recommendations will be. We will have more insight in how you can change things.”

To this end, students will be prompted to answer the questions that focus on what categories they think are most relevant to how they create their sense of belonging.

“Whatever seems to be salient for people that what we want to hear about,” said Westfall.

One question the group is particularly interested in, is how a person’s multiple identities comes to influence their sense of inclusion.

“We all have multiple identities all the time,” said Westfall. “A question we are asking is do you feel that there is an aspect of your identity, or a facet of who you are that you feel you’ve had to minimize or shut down on campus.”

The first of its kind on campus, the task force believes that taking the survey is a new opportunity for students to express their challenges in belonging at Kalamazoo, that will have serious effects on adapting student life for the better.

“I would argue that student participation in this survey is of unusual importance because of where we are in our institutional history,” said Dueweke. “We’re at a point where we need to figure out what kind of place K is going to be, and it will likely be fundamentally different from what it’s been.”

The survey will be sent out to students by email and the deadline for submission is March 1st, the Sunday of eighth week.

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Campus Survey Seeks to Reveal Personal Experience