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How to promote diversity and inclusion in colleges

A scroll overlayed by three hands and a mortarboard in three different colors to represent diversity.

How to promote diversity and inclusion in colleges? Relative Insight’s first specialist higher education webinar explored this vexing question, with Stony Brook University’s Ahmed Belazi explaining how the college used student surveys to take an iterative approach based on student feedback analysis.

“What I love is those who invite a collaboration that consistently proposes diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) not as a destination, rather a journey that is always morphing and tailored to the people who it impacts.”

Ahmed, Executive Director of Strategic Analytics and Technologies at the college, spoke to Dan Weiser, Business Development Manager at Relative Insight, about how Stony Brook has gone about this journey and its overall impact. The college is ranked as the number one public university in New York, in part down to the iterative improvements made using student feedback analysis from Ahmed and his team.

During the webinar, the pair discussed how to promote diversity and inclusion in colleges by using a strategy of continuous, incremental improvements. They also highlighted the best strategies to drive student survey responses, as well as how to get the most from free text responses in these surveys.

Sign up now to watch the full session on-demand. Or, read on for a summary of the key points Ahmed and Dan talked about.

A tactical approach to enhancing diversity

Diversity is part of Stony Brook University’s mission statement, making it vital for Ahmed and his team to help progress DE&I within the college. The team does this in two ways.

The first is to align and progress diversity within its direct and indirect practices. Ahmed cited recruitment of the institution’s staff as an example:

“We’ll look at our practices; both direct and indirect. For example, how we hire the expert talent — those amazing folks who are in our teams and around our teams across the university. They’re often the product of that diversity effort, in terms of both being inclusive but also ensuring our DE&I practices map on to our recruitment practices.”

The second element Ahmed discussed was ensuring insights had the required quality and rigor. He highlighted how his team used the insights it derives, from driving action within the institution to offering a benchmark for future projects to track changes and progress surrounding DE&I.

“We’re looking for movements across identity groups, segments, populations etc,” Ahmed explained. He added: “Those are all tactical ways in which we impact diversity. When we’re able to provide a senior decision maker with a comparison group or deliver feedback from a group that hasn’t had as much attention, those are always wins for us.”

This work means that Stony Brook University can demonstrate to different groups that their voice is being heard, valued and that the institution is acting upon their feedback.

Using technology to elevate student feedback analysis

In helping different groups to feel heard, Stony Brook University places huge importance in conducting thorough student feedback analysis that pinpoints exactly what they say. However, this can be a very manual process. Ahmed outlined what this entailed:

“What we’ve historically done… was manually looking through mountains of text data. Row after row of incredibly important comments, thing like ‘this is important to me for this reason’ or ‘this happened to me’ or ‘this is why I think this’; things that for an individual describe what their story is. We need to give it that weight.”

He outlined his team’s typical process. This painstaking, manual work involved coding and recoding every single open-ended survey response, as well as mapping them to themes and aligning these themes to initiatives. It required extensive time and effort to pinpoint insights the institution could turn into initiatives.

The college turned to technology to make this process more efficient — the Relative Insight platform. Ahmed explained the impact the tool has when it comes to determining how to promote diversity and inclusion in colleges such as Stony Brook University. He focused on the ability to define custom themes within the platform, which has really helped his team.

“What we were able to do with the Relative Insight tool is take text data and have it be contextualized in what’s called a custom theme, where those patterns are mapped onto a system that’s relevant to higher education institutions,” Ahmed explained.

He added: “Not only are we taking the theme of affordability, as an example, but we’re relating it to things like bills you’d receive in a higher education institution or the affordability for that educational enterprise. It’s giving us a really useful flavor as to how we’re unlocking these themes.”

Getting the best student survey data

Answering the question of how to promote diversity and inclusion in colleges using student feedback analysis requires detailed student feedback. Dan and Ahmed discussed the challenges colleges face in getting responses to student surveys and how Stony Brook University addresses survey fatigue.

Ahmed revealed that the institution has multiple strategies to enhance student survey response rates. These include A/B tests of subject lines, leveraging the popularity of people on campus as senders, sparing use of incentive campaigns, and consolidation of college-wide surveys. Ahmed explained that this last tactic had evolved, with the institution creating pulse surveys that solicit regular feedback from students without overwhelming them.

Ahmed elaborated: “We survey the entire 25,000+ campus population on a weekly basis. We’re not sending a survey to 25,000 people a week, but we’re grabbing a representative sample once a week. To the average participant, they’re seeing one survey once a month.”

The combination of consolidating surveys across all areas of the institution and sending them at intermittently at regular intervals has led to an increase in response rates and helped to combat survey fatigue. Over 50% of survey recipients have responded to a number of the institution’s student surveys, with this rising as high as an 85% response rate in one case.

Do you struggle to analyze your student survey data? Like Ahmed and Stony Brook University, your institution can use Relative Insight’s text analysis technology to rapidly understand what student populations are saying about a range of topics, from DE&I to safety on campus. Book a discovery call with one of our higher education experts to find out more.

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