Presence Data Collection Altered Following Student Concerns



Presence, a software implemented by the College this semester, tracks student event attendee data.

At the start of this semester, the College began using Presence, a software program designed to organize campus events and track attendee data. Recently, students have expressed concerns over Presence’s data-tracking habits.

Presence describes its services as supporting colleges and universities in managing and automating processes, engaging more students, tracking and collecting engagement data, assessing behaviors and trends, and encouraging and measuring experiential learning and co-curricular opportunities. Modern Campus, the company that acquired Presence in 2021, works with more than 1,400 colleges and universities across North America.

“Presence is a student engagement and learning solution that powers universities to improve retention rates by tracking and learning about their students’ involvement patterns and behaviors,” a Modern Campus press release on the software reads. “Serving more than 250 higher education institutions across North America, Presence makes it easy to visualize and assess engagement efforts through data, streamline workflows for departments and student organizations, and map learning outcomes to opportunities for student success.”

Presence has two interfaces: the organizer view and the attendee view. Any student can use the Student Portal, GOberlin, to discover organizations they would like to join and events they would like to attend. Events students have attended — regardless of whether they signed up for them via the GOberlin portal — will appear on their profile. The organization pages display the organization’s email, website, whether it was active in 2021–22, a description of the organization, and a feed linked to the organization’s social media account, as well as any upcoming events hosted by the organization.

According to Associate Dean of Students Thom Julian, the implementation of Presence is the result of a yearlong search for the software best suited to needs expressed by student organization leaders. The search was conducted in collaboration with the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement staff and the Center for Information Technology. Feedback was collected from focus groups with student organizations, the Vibrant Campus Task Force, and peer institutions. Presence was identified as the ideal software to streamline and digitize student organizations’ processes to improve understanding through data.

“We are quite early into the implementation of Presence, and our focus this semester is onboarding student organization leaders to organization management and event creation,” Julian wrote in an email to the Review. 

Earlier in the semester, shortly after Presence’s implementation, students expressed concerns about the nature of the data the software was tracking. Presence pulls data from Banner and tracks students’ involvement via various demographics, including GPA, race, gender, citizenship status, and national origin, which becomes accessible to event organizers. In response to this feedback, the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement has since altered its use of Presence so that it only tracks data on events with 50 attendees or more. 

Julian discussed the anonymity of the data. 

“All student demographic data is in an anonymous aggregate form,” Julian wrote. “The intention of this data is to ensure that we are equitably serving all populations on campus with our student involvement offerings.”

College second-year Tabitha Bird, a treasurer in training and the general manager at the Cat in the Cream, has spent some time understanding the new software and its use at Cat in the Cream events.

“The 50-person limit was to make it pretty much impossible … to figure out exactly which person matches which identifiers,” Bird said. “Then we cut down the limit of identifiers that would be accessible to general student [organizations].”

Students also expressed that they felt surveyed by the data collection and have identified that some of the data accessible to organizers may not always be accurate. 

“One of the biggest problems we have is that unless students are taking it upon themselves to update gender markers and other such things with the offices, we don’t have control over that,” Bird said.

Cat in the Cream staff members use Presence to identify how many people are attending their events and what parts of campus student attendees are coming from. They hope to get more information that will help them figure out how to increase the diversity of students at events.

“Last year, we had a lot of problems where people felt that … certain events were unintentionally segregated for various reasons, and that there was basically just a lack of diversity in groups on campus — we took that very seriously,” Bird said. “We have [found that] people who mostly live on North Campus [are] coming to our events, which makes a bit of sense because we’re located on North Campus, but it’s also really disappointing.”

According to Julian, Presence will continue to be updated in future semesters to provide more information and functions.

“We will introduce other features such as student finance tools, event feedback, organization elections, and much more,” Julian wrote.