Top Hat

Why you should care about the Student Senate Survey

By Meagan Lettko January 28, 2020

The Student Senate is the chief legislative and only elected body of Student Government. For this reason, we focus a lot of our time and energy on trying to better represent the people that elected us. Rensselaer has a diverse campus community comprised of five different schools with both undergraduate and graduate students totaling over 7,000 people. It is very difficult for our 30 plus members to represent the needs of all of these students if we do not have accurate data to support student positions on topics that affect all of our lives on campus.

For this reason, every year the Student Senate works to build a survey to gather campus sentiment on a variety of topics that affect our daily lives. The survey results are used by our 10 committees to prioritize projects and initiatives. The results are also communicated to various departments on campus, such as Facilities and Services, to improve the physical environment of our campus.

This survey is unique because every student has the opportunity to answer it. There are very few surveys like this. It is also unique in the way that it is created. This survey is created by students, and they have the final say in what questions are included. Our 10 Senate committees work with various other groups on campus to create questions that will gather student sentiment. Included throughout the survey, there is extra information to educate the student body about how you are represented, as well as countless opportunities for you to express how you genuinely feel about your experience at RPI.

With more responses, we can do a better job of representing you! As a Senate, we read every single response and organize the data into a presentation of results. We then take these results and use them to fuel our committee work and conversations with administrators.

We understand that students may not see immediate changes based on their responses to this survey. It is important to note that sharing your experiences and opinions will be beneficial for future students. Previous students have made changes for the benefit of our experience at RPI, and this survey is one of the ways that we try to identify how we can do the same.

In the past, this survey has gathered over 1,300 responses from the student body. Although this is great data, compared to the size of our student body, this response rate is not as high as we would like it to be. Every year we aim to get a higher response rate than the past year. Please fill out this survey so that we can represent you better! It only takes 10–15 minutes and it can be found here.

Senate Survey Anonymity

We use our own survey platform, that our Web Technologies Group created, in order to ensure anonymity. We want anonymous results so that students will share their genuine thoughts without fear of their name being attached. As stated on the survey home page, “While this survey requires that students log in using a valid RCS user ID, the survey itself is completely anonymous. The login is merely used to authenticate that survey participants are affiliated with RPI, and all personally-identifiable user information is deleted after the session is complete. An irreversible hash of your RCS ID is recorded to ensure that the survey is taken only once, and this hash is not linked to your survey responses. Furthermore, the open-source code for the survey platform can be found on GitHub.” This method ensures anonymity unless students leave their email to be entered into a raffle, where we would be able to see that you did fill it out, but not how you responded.

Thanks to members of The Poly, we have recently discovered that it is possible for site administrators to trace emails in our raffle at the end of the survey back to the responses to other survey questions. We understand how serious of a concern this is and are incredibly thankful that this flaw was brought to our attention.

We resolved this by completely eliminating the raffle question and instead replaced it with a Google Forms link. The Google Forms link is in no way connected to the hash assigned to each survey response. This will allow for students to still have an opportunity to be entered into a raffle without compromising their anonymity in their other responses.

This resolution occurred on January 22. The Senate Survey has been live since January 13. For students that answered the survey prior to this resolution, your emails have been dissociated with your responses and are being stored separately.

The only people who will have administrative access to this survey will be the Web Technologies Group chairperson, the vice grand marshal, and the grand marshal. All data will be distributed to committee chairs by these people.