Insights from the second Stanford Community Survey

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Editor’s Note: This is The Daily’s second ever Stanford Community Survey. Check out our coverage of the first Community Survey from spring 2020.

Introduction

This past fall, The Daily conducted the second edition of the Stanford Community Survey (SCS) as part of an ongoing effort to regularly poll the student body. From Nov. 2-25, we gathered student opinions on Stanford’s COVID response, national politics, campus issues like the Hoover Institution and Greek life and more.

Overall, we received 612 student responses, 80% of which were from undergraduates. Undergraduate respondents were roughly evenly distributed across class years. Ph.D. students constituted the largest share of non-undergraduate respondents, accounting for 10% of all responses.  

Females were slightly overrepresented in the survey relative to the Stanford student population, with 58% of respondents identifying as female compared to 50% of the Stanford population. The racial composition of the respondent pool was roughly similar to that of Stanford’s student population. The most common fields of study amongst respondents were computer science (13% among respondents, compared to 16% of the student population), economics (7% of respondents, compared to 4% of all students), and human biology (5%, compared to 3% of all students).

Though our sample population was broadly similar to Stanford along observable characteristics like race, major and gender, we did not have a random sample, so it is possible that our sample was unrepresentative along unobservable characteristics. Our results should therefore be interpreted with caution.  

Administration and COVID-19 policy approval 

The SCS asked students about their opinions on the Stanford administration and particularly its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this survey, the administration had planned on housing frosh and sophomores on campus during winter quarter. Responses to questions about the administration’s winter quarter plan and its honesty about the likelihood of bringing students back to the campus reflect student opinions before the Jan. 9 reversal of on-campus housing plans.

Approximately 51% of students approved of the University’s response to COVID-19, while only 35% of students approved of the administration in general. This presents a break from the results of spring 2020’s first SCS, in which students approved of the administration and its COVID-19 response at rates of 57% and 58%, respectively. President Marc Tessier-Lavigne had a 41% approval rating, exceeding that of the administration at large. The first SCS also showed higher approval ratings for Tessier-Lavigne, with the president’s rating at 60% compared to the administration at 57%. 

When the SCS was administered in November, 25% of students agreed that the Stanford administration was being honest about the likelihood of bringing students back to campus. Even prior to the reversal of winter quarter housing plans, 52% of students disagreed that the administration had been honest. Fifty one percent of students approved of the University’s original winter quarter plans to bring freshmen, sophomores and new transfer students back on campus. 

Effects of the pandemic

As undergraduate students brace for another virtual quarter, the SCS offers insights into their experiences with online learning and impacts of COVID-19. When asked about fall quarter classes, 40% of students responded that online courses were in line with their expectations, with approximately 27% and 30% of students finding them better or worse, respectively. Students were also split on what classes they felt worked best online, with 39% of students favoring large lectures with more than 50 participants, and the remaining responses divided between smaller lectures and discussion-based seminars.

The combination of online learning and COVID-19 has taken a large toll on the motivation and mental health of students. Eighty-four percent of respondents reported that online classes had decreased their motivation for schoolwork. Eighty-six percent of students indicated that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their mental health, with 41% citing a very negative impact. Additionally, only 24% of respondents said that they would feel comfortable accessing Stanford’s mental health resources remotely. Thirty-six percent of students indicated that they would be uncomfortable and 39% were unsure. 

National politics

In the SCS, students were asked about their political beliefs and the 2020 presidential election. The plurality of Stanford students identify as “liberal,” and 66% identify as either “liberal” or “very liberal.” Other popular identifications are “moderate” (16%) and “socialist” (8%). Only 4% identify as “conservative” or “very conservative.” 

The vast majority of Stanford students supported Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election. Of the students surveyed, 93.2% supported Biden, while 3.6% supported Donald Trump, which is almost perfectly in line with precinct-level voter data from the presidential election for voters from Stanford’s campus.

Hoover Institution

The Daily asked students about their views on the relationship between Stanford and the Hoover Institution, which came under severe scrutiny this fall. In September, a letter signed by over 100 faculty called on the Faculty Senate to discuss the Hoover Institution’s relationship to the University. In November, the Faculty Senate formally condemned the COVID-19-related actions of Hoover senior fellow Scott Atlas. Days later, The Daily’s editorial board called for Stanford to disaffiliate from the Hoover Institution.

Students were asked whether they agreed or disagreed that “The Hoover Institution, on the whole, is a positive part of the Stanford ecosystem.” Indicating disapproval of the Hoover Institution, slightly more than half of students either “disagree” or “strongly disagree.” A number of students are undecided; 31% selected “neither agree nor disagree.” Nineteen percent of students indicated support of the institute, responding “agree” or “strongly agree.”

Students’ political beliefs are highly correlated with their beliefs on the Hoover Institution. Seventy-eight percent of students with right-leaning political identifications (conservative, very conservative or libertarian) either “agree” or “strongly agree” that Hoover is a positive part of the Stanford ecosystem, while only 9% of students with left-leaning political identifications (liberal, very liberal, socialist or communist) agree.

Greek life

This fall, both the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council passed resolutions encouraging Stanford to permanently unhouse Greek organizations. The votes came amid calls to reevaluate Greek life’s presence on Stanford’s campus, notably from the Abolish Stanford Greek movement. 

The Daily asked students to indicate support for one of four policies towards Greek Life: “no changes necessary,” “increase penalties for misbehavior but no further action,” “unhouse but do not ban from campus” and “ban from campus.” 87% of respondents support some change in policy, with the most support for unhousing but not banning from campus. Altogether, 60% of students endorse either unhousing or banning Greek organizations. 

Stanford’s Greek organizations have increasingly been criticized for excluding marginalized populations on campus. Support for unhousing or banning was higher among self-identified females than self-identified males and was particularly high among those who identify as non-binary or third gender. Also, white respondents supported no change in Greek life policy at higher rates than non-white respondents, with 16% of white respondents selecting “no change necessary” compared to 9% of non-white respondents.

As part of our ongoing efforts to understand Stanford’s student body, The Daily plans to continue conducting Community Surveys. If you have any suggestions for questions or themes that should be included in future surveys, please contact The Daily’s Data Team at data ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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Silas Morsink is a staff writer in the Data section. He is a Senior from Bethesda, MD studying Economics and Statistics and enjoys jazz piano and running in circles. Contact him at [email protected]