Students Organize New Survey on Loneliness
Issue   |   Wed, 11/11/2015 - 01:43

The Association of Amherst Students and the Office of Institutional Research distributed an online survey on loneliness to the student body on Nov. 3.

In the 2014 National College Health Assessment survey, 76 percent of Amherst College respondents reported feeling “very lonely.” But because only 30 percent of students took the survey, the results were not statistically valid. This year, AAS senator Evelyn Ting ’17 and Michael Bessey ’18E worked with the Office of Institutional Research to organize a more accurate survey.

The new survey had a 69 percent response rate, which can be considered statistically significant. Most students took two minutes or less to respond to the survey, which Ting said may explain the high response rate. The survey results will be released after the Office of Institutional Research has analyzed the data.

The survey was based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Instead of asking respondents one question, this method presented students with 20 statements about loneliness and asked them to rate the relevance of those statements to their personal experiences.

“The National College Health Assessment hadn’t really delved deeply into the question of loneliness,” Bessey said. “Before we can have as meaningful a discussion as possible about this subject, we really have to identify the problem better.”

Ting and Bessey said several other efforts had been made to ensure a higher student response rate. In addition to several reminder emails sent out by the AAS, resident counselors of several dorms on campus promoted the survey to their residents.

Hanna Song Spinosa, the head of institutional research, said that her office will analyze the data from the survey and help the student organizers present it to the community. If the survey reveals high levels of loneliness among Amherst students, the office will directly inform the student body and the administration, and will consult the mental health and wellness committee to devise strategies to address the issue.

“The committee on mental health and wellness will conduct focus groups in the spring, so it’ll inform how they organize those focus groups,” Ting said. “Sometimes loneliness can be a mental health thing. So if we find something that suggests that loneliness is due to a lot of students having mental health issues, there’d be an argument to bolster pouring more resources into the counseling center.”

According to Ting, the college administration can help with some issues of loneliness on campus, but further reforms would need to come from the student body.

“What we did in part was a milestone because it was a student-driven survey,” Ting said. “In general, I think the students are capable of facilitating the reforms themselves.”

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