Getting to know you–sociology survey reveals students’ background

With almost 6,000 students attending the College, most will only know the backgrounds, characteristics and beliefs of a close-knit group of friends or floormates. However, the work of sociology majors who conducted a campuswide survey last semester may help broaden perceptions of the College community.

Diane C. Bates, assistant professor of sociology, and 16 sociology students conducted a general social survey (GSS) designed to collect data on the student body. The students took a model of the GSS from the University of Michigan and asked questions from four general areas of interest: background, culture, activities and “hot-button” issues such as gay rights, abortion and capital punishment.

“The students wrote and pretested the questions,” Bates said. “The survey went through several versions.”

At first, the survey involved face-to-face interviews, but the students conducting the surveys received a low response. Instead, the students conducted a convenience survey, where they were allowed to present the survey to anyone they knew. All together, 646 valid surveys were obtained, representing over 10 percent of the campus population. The students also obtained random samples for results.

“It was very difficult to get students to participate in the survey,” Marisa Godleski, senior elementary education and sociology major, said.

“It was a very busy time in the semester, and the last thing people wanted to do was be interviewed. It was hard to find time to interview people in person, so we found other ways, such as over the phone or through e-mail,” she added.

Everyone involved in the survey felt that the results were rather homogenous. Here are some of the more interesting claims that the survey makes:

* The campus has a predominantly Catholic student body. About 56 percent of the student body surveyed practices Catholicism, leaving less than half of students to other religions.

* Almost 60 percent of the students surveyed work on campus part time during the school year but many have full-time experience, since they usually work full-time jobs over the summer.

* It was found that 60 percent of the students surveyed have working mothers, with nearly 65 percent of them holding pink-collar jobs in fields such as education or nursing. Fathers, for their part, hold white-collar professional jobs. In most students’ families, both parents work, so most students come from a middle to upper-middle class background.

* Students are more widely traveled than you might expect. The average number of countries visited per student is 2.16.

* Many students are fluent in a second language. Though Spanish is the most common second language, there were over 20 different second language proficiencies reported in the survey and only 31.5 percent of the student participants lacked proficiency in a second language.

* Students showed a large support for gay rights. About 66 percent of the student body surveyed said they saw nothing at all wrong with homosexual relationships.

* Many students found that they have maintained their level of faith since attending the College. Only 20 percent of students have found their faith has weakened since they started college, while 66 percent claim their faith level has remained the same and 14 percent saw an increase.

Some of the students taking the survey were surprised by the results.

“(I was surprised) that students’ parents pay for practically everything, including their education, car, insurance, computer and cell phone,” Liz Kornbluth, senior sociology major, said, referring to another one of the conclusions drawn.

“As cookie-cutter as it seems our college is, there is actually a lot of diversity, especially in the area of spoken languages at home, which was surprisingly varied and contained about 20 or so different languages,” Godleski said.

“Most students who took the survey as well as ones who are reading the results will compare themselves to their peers to measure how different their answers would be,” Kelly Sheperd, senior sociology and psychology major, said.

“(The students) did a fabulous job,” Bates said. “I cannot sing the praises of these students enough. They were professionally skilled.”

Bates hopes that sociology students will conduct a similar GSS every couple of years to see if the results change over time.

“I am truly pleased with the whole experience and would recommend this particular tutorial to other sociology majors whenever it is offered,” Sheperd said.

The preliminary research has been posted on the Internet at the sociology department’s Web site,