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Students express concerns in UCS fall poll

Students polled on financial aid, transparency, university political stances

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, January 31, 2020

The Undergraduate Council of Students shared the results of its annual Fall Poll today in an email sent to all undergraduate students. Financial burdens, mental health issues and increased control of the University’s gift acceptance and investment policies emerged as the highest priorities, according to the poll results.

The poll is administered every fall to collect data about student opinions on a wide range of campus issues, said UCS President William Zhou ’20. UCS uses the results to propose initiatives and spark dialogue with University officials in their efforts to advocate for student needs, he added.

“The thing that’s really powerful about the poll is how it quantifies student voice and serves as a benchmark to see how campus climate is evolving,” Zhou said.

The poll asks both “topical questions” relevant to current discussions happening on campus and a set of questions that remain similar to previous years.

2,670 students — 37.9 percent of the undergraduate student body — answered questions on the poll, marking an increase in respondents from previous years. In 2018, 12.8 percent of undergraduates took the poll, and 27.6 percent responded in 2017.

While UCS hears student concerns through various channels, the poll provides data to present to University administrators, said UCS member Ricky Zhong ’23, who led the 2019 Fall Poll.

“Even though we could make a logical argument for why students want this or that policy, it’s much more helpful for us to show a poll where the student body is on our side,” he added.

Unlike previous polls, this year, a UCS committee was formed to develop poll questions, and UCS leadership planned from the start to release the results to the student body in a single document, Zhou added.

In response to a question asking students to prioritize how the University could “support its students financially,” 68.7 percent of respondents chose reducing the cost of textbooks and course materials and 64.4 percent put increasing funds for summer jobs and internships, the two most popular options presented.

Students also emphasized the importance of mental health issues more than they have in previous years, Zhong said. In a question asking about how much progress respondents feel the University has made regarding mental health support on campus, 30 percent of respondents felt that the University had made progress increasing mental health training opportunities. But more students felt that the University had regressed in transparency on CAPS services changes than in any other metric.

“Students definitely seem more open to using mental health resources than in the past,” Zhong said.

Additionally, 26.6 percent of respondents expressed a desire for UCS to take political stances on world events. “Given the nature of sometimes contentious political current events, we want to make sure that students can feel supported regardless of their political leaning,” Zhou said.

Throughout the poll, students expressed a desire for greater transparency from the University on multiple fronts. About 62.8 percent of poll respondents believe the University should end preference in admissions for legacy applicants, while 69 percent of those who still support legacy priority admissions said that they wanted the process to be more transparent.

Further, 73.8 percent of respondents wanted students to have more decision-making power in the University’s gift acceptance and endowment investment policies. Respondents favored committees, online feedback forms and community forums as possible solutions.

UCS has already started using the data from the Fall Poll to propose initiatives to serve the interests of the student body, Zhou said.

Regarding campus health issues, Zhou said that UCS is dedicated to addressing student concerns about tap water quality in University residence halls. Approximately 59.1 percent of respondents said that they were either “somewhat” or “very uncomfortable” with drinking their dorm tap water.

“We are getting in conversations with (the Department of Facilities Management and the Division of Campus Life) to make sure that water sanitary information becomes more accessible and it’s easier for students to get water to drink,” he said.

The poll results also “helped advocate for the continuation of the (airport) shuttle program over Thanksgiving,” Zhou added. The program, which was first offered fall 2018, gave free rides to T.F. Green Airport and Boston Logan International Airport for over 200 students in the fall, according to Zhou.

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