Senate Survey Reveals Student Dissatisfaction

After receiving over 1,100 responses to their fall 2017 survey on student satisfaction at Oberlin, Student Senate has found that students are dissatisfied with current campus resources and services, but are invested in seeking improvements.

Senate’s survey covered a range of issues on student life, including retention, the Office of Disability Resources, housing, the quality of Senate’s work, campus climate, and the Student Finance Committee.

The survey found that close to 49 percent of students had either previously or recently considered leaving Oberlin. A minority of students also voiced significant support for improvements to the ODR, but were split almost evenly about where the office should be located. 40 percent listed transportation, both around campus and to Cleveland, as a primary concern. Many students also expressed interest in the College’s carbon neutrality commitment.

College junior and Student Senator Cecilia Wallace, who has been reviewing the survey results, said that she was only slightly surprised about the widespread feeling of isolation on campus.

“I understand that people feel trapped, but that’s really doable to change,” she said.

Both Wallace and fellow College junior and Student Senator Kameron Dunbar felt that a shuttle system between Oberlin and Cleveland would help facilitate greater connectivity between students and the greater Cleveland area.

Dunbar said that he plans to present the findings across campus and that the Office of the President has directed Student Senate to “cultivate three to five well articulated goals” for how to respond to student complaints. “Senate is working toward developing those goals,” Dunbar said.

Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo echoed that the survey would provide an impetus for campus change.

“I think that the survey results definitely will have an effect on campus,” she said. “ It creates a really strong basis for student cooperation with senior administration.”

Raimondo added that she wasn’t surprised by the initial survey results, although she did say that she hadn’t yet seen all of the data. Senior administration routinely conducts campus-wide surveys, and such surveys have previously brought student feelings of isolation to the administration’s attention.

Raimondo said that it is not the structure of the College itself that contributes to a lack of community, but rather that students aren’t exposed enough to friendship-forming tools to socially acclimate to college. Senior administration’s solution was to institute the Peer Advising Leaders, or PAL program.

“PALs made a big difference for first-year students,” Raimondo said.

PALs aren’t currently paid, but that might change. The survey results indicated that 95 percent of students support continuing to pay Student Senators for their work, and Raimondo signaled an openness to paying students in similar roles, like PALs.

“Although that is a budgetary question, I think spending money on students is great,” Raimondo said. “It supports students and is a good use of our finances.”

Students also suggested in the survey that while Senate’s emails are effective for outreach, Senate’s Azariah’s Café office hours are not especially productive.

Wallace said that the Senate has been brainstorming additional ideas, including that orientation may need to change to prevent first-years from feeling isolated.

Raimondo said she hopes to learn how campus culture factored into a lack of communal feeling. “How widespread is call-out culture and how do people feel about it?” she said. “Is there a judgemental political climate on campus?”

Dunbar and Wallace regretted that the survey didn’t ask what students liked about campus.

“I wish the survey had asked what helped make Oberlin a better place for them — like a co-op, club sports, or OWLS sessions,” Wallace said. “I think we missed a place where we could have learned what makes people want to stay.”

Despite some of the survey’s more negative statistics, Dunbar, Wallace, and Raimondo expressed optimism. Neither Dunbar nor Wallace thought that the survey would impact enrollment or how prospective students understood Oberlin, while Raimondo added that she hopes the results will lead to positive change