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Student Health Survey sees decrease in responses amid pandemic

While Rose Marie Ward would normally find herself visiting large, lecture-based courses to have Miami University students fill out the Student Health Survey, this year she relied entirely on email. 

Each year, Miami works with Ward to distribute the Student Health Survey to gauge mental health status, sexual misconduct, alcohol use and other metrics among the university's full-time undergraduate population. 

Ward, a professor and associate dean of the graduate school, said the survey typically has between four and five thousand responses. This year, around 3,700 students answered. Despite the lower turnout, Ward is still satisfied with the results.

"I'm happy because it's a pandemic," Ward said. "There's other, more face-to-face ways that I would connect with students so they would know about it. But I had to rely on email and really rely on people feeling that it was important."

For many students, the influx of emails from different classes, organizations and surveys during a pandemic can be overwhelming. Lizzie Murray, a first-year marketing major, said she has trouble keeping up with all the emails she gets daily. 

"There's always an overflow of emails, and I check my email a lot, but I check it right before I need to do something like get onto a Zoom call," Murray said. "I feel like it's not gonna harm me at all to [take the survey]. There's really no reason why I shouldn't, and it obviously would be nice to help, but I'm feeling tired and burnt out."

Before the pandemic, accounting Professor Eric Marinich had students in his Accounting 222 (ACC 222) class – which typically has over 600 students – fill out the Student Health Survey during class. This year, he offered extra credit to students, both to contribute to the survey and to boost their grades. 

"Grades were just a little lower than I would like them to be at this point in the semester, so I gave them an opportunity to earn some extra credit," Marinich said. "I think it's burnout from over the last year. Everyone is feeling, I would imagine, some level of stress or fatigue related to what we've all been going through for the past twelve months or so." 

Marinich said around half of his students responded to the survey, but he expected more of a turnout.

"Just based on what I know about my students and how much they like extra credit, I would have guessed much higher," Marinich said. "I'm frequently asked for extra credit opportunities."

Earlier in the semester, Murray participated in a different survey where she logged her social media use for multiple weeks. While she was offered the potential for financial compensation, she said that was not a major factor in her decision to fill out the survey. 

"I checked my email, and I wasn't really doing much, so I was just like, 'Okay, I guess I could probably help out,'" Murray said. 

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In filling out the survey, students contribute to a large pool of anonymized data that is used to determine where Miami should be allocating resources and support. Ward said this year's data can be used to contribute to more broad research communities outside of the university because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Particularly this year, the COVID questions helped guide some of the decisions that were going on with regards to COVID and vaccines,” Ward said. “And every year, Student Life uses this to do programming, whether it's with regards to mental health issues, or alcohol, or sexual assault."

For Ward, filling out surveys is both a good way to contribute to research efforts and a way to potentially help her own research. 

"My own personal philosophy is that I believe in research karma, so I always fill them out," Ward said. "I feel like it's important to do interviews and do fill out surveys, because it's a way to contribute back to the Miami community."