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Climate advisory - Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

 Nov. 2, 2020

by Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.
Vice President, Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success
Director and Professor, Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation


Climate Advisory #CA-2020-07 is based on Climatext data collected on Nov. 2 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "Good morning! How are you feeling about the elections tomorrow?" A total of 300 students, or 40.1% of the total sampling population, responded within 3-hours. Student sentiment scores can range from -1.00 (negative) to +1.00 (positive). Both actual and adjusted (re-coded) sentiment scores are presented in the summary of the findings. VCU senior administrators, deans and chairs are asked to consider the university affordances provided to students, especially on-campus residents, during this period of time.

VCU students reported anxiety and fear about the Nov. 3 elections. However, these negative sentiments were somewhat counterbalanced by their sense of hope and optimism. The tug and pull of emotions were reflected in their moderately negative sentiment (-0.099; -0.175 adjusted) about the pending elections. There were few demographic differences in student sentiment, with the exception of college women who expressed significantly more negative sentiment (-0.150; -0.210 adjusted) than college men (+0.089; -0.049 adjusted). Overall, student sentiment coincided with several broad themes related to fear about continued infringement on identity and self; anxiety about an impending civil unrest; concern about the future of the country and dread and exhaustion. Below, examples of each theme are provided.

I. Fear about continued infringement on identity and self

  • "Im real scared, cause as a trans queer man it feels like my existence is being dangled around for fun like a piñata" (Female, 22, Biology major)
  • "I am very stressed about the election. I'm am afraid for my rights and the rights of those I love. We cannot continue with the current administration. And being in a urban environment living in campus during this unrest is scary as well." (Male, 21, Business Major, On-Campus resident)
  • "I’m terrifies but i try to ignore it. it's not easy to think about. Even if Biden wins it'll go to the supreme court which now has barrett and we are screwed. Even for local elections I hope stoney doesn't win. i'm pretty stressed" (Female, 19, On-campus resident)
  • "I'm kind of scared! i really hope the candidate i support wins, as i feel like some of my freedoms are otherwise comprised. i am also worried about possible tension that may erupt after election night" (Female, 19, Biomedical Engineering)
  • "Feeling nervous and very anxious anticipating what may or may not change. I am concerned about how whoever is elected may affect the rights of myself, my friends and family, and those around me. I am worried about how this may further divide our country." (Female, 26, MPH)

II. Anxiety about an impending civil unrest

  • "i'm concerned about the backlash. i fear that many will retaliate out of anger with the election and that i may be a victim to that. i'm going to do my best to stay indoors with people i trust out of fear." (Female, 19, On-Campus Resident)
  • "I am concerned about the potential for civil unrest and violence as a result of the election. I'm scared that there could be violence, no matter the winner. I am hopeful that this country will make progress, though." (Male, 21, On-Campus Resident, Music Major)
  • "extremely fearful of how ugly things can get. it was just yesterday that trump supporters were running over and shooting at crowds of blm supporters. i don't expect the ignorance from radical republicans to stop any time soon." (Female, 19, Business Foundations, On-Campus Resident)
  • "i'm worried about uprising from people who aren't pleased with the outcome. demonstrations and conflict have already occurred in richmond so i'm sure there will be more once the election results are made public" (Female, 19, MFO major, On-Campus Resident)
  • "I feel scared. I am not American and cannot vote. As a Canadian, this political climate feels very foreign to me. It is hostile and divided and I fear for my safety." (Female, 27)
  • "Anxious about how safe the city will be Wednesday, regardless of results but hoping people go out and vote regardless because we need positive change" (Female, 31)
  • "Concerned. Whoever wins I feel strongly that either party will be extremely angry and go into riots and protest again, which could put students in Richmond in danger." (Female, 19, Art Major)
  • "I am honestly terrified. I'm scared for all the riots bound to happen and the people who may get hurt in the process. I just hope people think through all this and the possible covid spikes that may result from all the commotion." (Female, 20, Kinesiology Major)

III. Concern about the future of the country

  • "i feel like i'm in a dream and i can't believe that tomorrow is the day. i'm scared, stressed, and tense. but i also have a small glimpse of hope that maybe everything will be ok." (Female, 19, On-Campus Resident)
  • "Tomorrow's election has me nervous about the future of the country, but I have hope that the future will bring togetherness and understanding instead of hate and binary beliefs with no possibility of compromise." (Female, 19, HPX Major)
  • "I'm feeling very anxious on both outcomes. The future of our country is at stake at I don't know how to cope." (Male, 20, English Major, On-Campus Resident)
  • "Anxious and worried about the future of our country" (Female, 21, English Major, On-Campus Resident)
  • "Cautiously optimistic, although concerned that the process will drag out for quite a long time and the winner will be not immediately be clear." (Male, 23)
  • "Optimistic for Biden to win and the divisive culture to possibly begin healing. I'm also worried about the days and weeks before we know for sure who has won." (Female, 37)
  • "I feel excited, hopefully we can select the correct person that can handle this situations during the global pandemic" (Male, 22, Elementary Education)
  • "Uncertain, both for the outcome and what it will mean for the future of this country. I have to believe that democracy will prevail, however; the alternative is far scary." (Male, 31)

IV. Dread and exhaustion

  • "I am feeling really, really anxious. It's going to be back and forth and just super exhausting. A long week is ahead." (Female, 20, Art History Major)
  • "I am very nervous and honestly tired. I think it's ridiculous how apocalyptic this election is becoming" (Female, 19)
  • "I am exhausted and want it to be over" (Female, 19)
  • "I voted early so ok as far as safety but watching the results I’m dreading / excited for" (Male, 22)
  • "I fear for everyone's reactions, but this is a democracy. Whoever wins, did so rightfully, and we all must adjust and continue forward" (Male, 20, Biology Major)
  • "I fear that, no matter what happens, fear and dersison will only increase. Neither of the major cannidates seem like they are fit to hold office and I don't think either of them can start the healing process our nation so desperately needs." (Not reported, 24)

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.