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Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

Oct. 7, 2021
#CA-2021-05

by Virginia Palencia, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

ATTITUDES REGARDING CAMPUS RETURN

Climate Advisory #CA-2021-5 is based on Climatext data collected on September 22 and 23, 2021 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "How has the first month of your return to campus been so far?" A total of 225 students, or 21.6% of the total sampling population, responded within a 48-hour period. 

Student sentiment scores can range from -1.00 (negative) to +1.00 (positive). Actual sentiment scores are presented in the summary of the findings. VCU senior administrators, deans and chairs are asked to consider these findings in university affordances provided to students, especially on-campus residents, during this period of time.

Overall, student responses indicated an overwhelmingly positive (+35.7) sentiment score. 68.8% of the respondents indicated a positive sentiment score, 20% negative sentiment, and 10.2% had a neutral sentiment score.

Students with positive sentiment most often expressed a generalized gratitude for being back in person and for opportunities to connect on campus with their peers, as well as having the opportunity to access resources. The most common positive responses centered on being happy about seeing other people again and making new friends, as well as being grateful to have classes in-person. Other students praised the campus for its activities and inclusivity.

Negative student responses indicated concern about stress and adjustment,  reflecting the transition back to campus life and in-person classes - whether that adjustment was to an in-person format, a heavy workload, or other concerns. Similarly, students also cited stress as a factor, which undoubtedly reflects the adjustment to campus return and balancing workloads in the midst of a pandemic. 

A few students cited concern and hesitation about the looming threat of future outbreaks.

 

  • Gender. VCU women (.37) were slightly more likely to have a positive sentiment score than men (.33). 
  • Age. There were differences regarding age, with students in their teens reporting the most positive sentiment (.51). Respondents in their 20’s (.25) expressed less optimism than respondents in their 30’s (.41) or 40’s (.34). 
  • Race/Ethnicity. Asian American students (.44) reported much more favorable sentiment than Hispanic (.29), Black (.33), and White students (.34).
  • Student Classification. Freshmen (.54) and sophomores (.43) reported more favorable sentiment compared to juniors (.27) and seniors (.31). Medical students (.40 - only three respondents) were more likely than graduate students (.24) to have positive sentiments regarding campus return.
  • Pell-Eligible & First Generation. Pell-eligible students (.25) were notably less positive in their overall sentiments than other students (.39).  First-generation (.37) students reported similar sentiments as non-first generation (.35) students .

With regard to subgroups, several differences emerged. Hispanic (Latinx) students (.29), upperclassmen (.27, .31) and Pell-eligible students (.25) were more likely than their counterparts to have a less positive sentiment score. 

Student responses were characterized along four themes. The most prevalent theme was excited & grateful to be on campus, followed by difficulty with adjustment, coping with stress, and cautiously concerned. Below, examples of each theme are provided.

I. Excited & Grateful to Be on Campus

"It's been fantastic finally having in person classes again, I finally feel like I'm actually learning again!" (Male, 20, White, Junior, BIO)

"My first month has been good. It's a lot to get used to since I'm back on campus but it's given me a lot of opportunity to talk to more people than I have last year while being fully virtual." (Female, 20, Asian, senior, BIO)

"These first weeks have been amazing, I'm really enjoying everything VCU has to offer and I love being out and on my own for once. I'm a lot happier and super excited for what my classes have to offer." (Male, 18, Multiracial, freshman, ELE)

"Weird to see large groups of people together at first but I've been watching the COVID dashboard and vaccination rates and that has made me feel a lot more comfortable. Other than that, it has been great to connect with people in person!" (Female, 21, Asian, senior, THE)

"It's been great! I am so happy to be back on campus. It has also been challenging readjusting to in-person classes, but I am very happy to be back." (Female, 21, Black, senior, BIO)

"It has been great, and I personally do not have any issues with the mask mandate. Life on campus seems to be gradually moving closer and closer towards normalcy." (Male, 19, Asian, junior, CHE)

"So good! So many events to attend and ways to branch out and make friends. I feel immersed in the city, and I'm so happy to have met so many people from different backgrounds!" (Female, 18, Multiracial, sophomore, PSY)

"It's been pretty good. I'm loving it here. I feel so included and involved." (Female, 18, Black, freshman, PNR)

"Great! I enjoy having in-person classes and taking advantage of VCU resources while on campus." (Female, 18, White, freshman, POS)

"It's been nice seeing friends and other people again. It's been annoying having to wear masks again but I feel better with vaccine mandates." (Male, 30, Asian, medical, MED)

"My first month has been great! I have enjoyed good food and a lot of fun activities to partake in. Classes have been getting more stressful but I am learning a lot." (Female, 18, White, freshman, BIO)

"It's been stressful, but overall very nice. I've seen a sense of community that I wasn't able to see last year, and now I feel as if I am truly a Ram." (Female, 18, White, freshman, BFO)

"It's been good. I'm glad to see campus alive again with students being on campus." (Male, 21, White, senior, BIO)

II. Difficulty with Adjustment

"So far it's been a dozy! it's a struggle getting used to having to be in an actual classroom again, as well as balancing having some online classes." (Female, 20, Black, junior, THF)

"It's been very hectic. Kinda difficult trying to balance in person and virtual requirements and reforming relationships." (Male, 27, White, senior, BUS)

"It's very difficult to get used to in person classes again." (Male, 23, White, senior, ELE)

III. Coping with Stress

"It has been overwhelming and a bit stressful but I'm excited to be back in person learning with others!" (Female, 22, White, graduate, SLW)

"It's been stressful, due to having to quarantine at one point. I'm getting better now." (Male, 30, White, graduate, SOC)

"Not great. I’m extremely stressed." (Female, 17, White, freshman, PNR)

IV. Cautiously Concerned

"It's been weird. Like, everything's trying to go back to normal, but we know it never will. And there's still the looming threat of getting sick and/or classes being affected." (Male, 24, White)

"Honestly it's been nice seeing friends in my classes in person, but COVID-19 looming around campus is VERY worrisome." (Male, 20, Multiracial, senior, SLW)

Summary Recommendations

  • Consider providing supports for adjustment to campus return in the following areas:
    • Balancing virtual & in-person classes
    • Work habits
    • Managing stress
    • Maintaining physical and mental health.
  • Communicate pathways for students to receive academic assistance and support for student success.
  • Communicate opportunities for students to receive support for mental health. 
  • Continue to provide opportunities for students to connect with one another safely and build community.

About Climatext. VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) administers Climatext as part of the university’s proactive monitoring and response plan to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Climatext assesses student sentiment resulting from their information exposure and experiences related to COVID-19. Sentiment scores range from negative-to neutral (-1.00 to 0.00) and from neutral-to-positive (0.00 to +1.00). Climatext produces a real-time data summary for the general student population as well as student subpopulations. Data are collected and coded using proprietary software conceptualized and developed by Sam Yerkes, Jim Yucha, and Aashir Nasim. Results are used to inform the university’s strategic communications efforts and support services that address student needs.