Last week, invitations to participate in the “Notre Dame GLBTQ Survey” were disseminated throughout the Notre Dame community as student and alumni groups circulated the link to the survey. The survey, created and hosted through the popular online SurveyMonkey poll service, was created by the organization known as the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s (GALA-ND/SMC) and distributed by student groups across campus.
Liam Dacey, a 2004 Notre Dame graduate and the current chair of GALA-ND/SMC, described the survey on its Facebook page.
“The survey was created by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae of ND and SMC (GALA-ND/SMC) and students in the Progressive Student Alliance,” he wrote. “We want to get a better idea of what the student, faculty, staff, and alumni perception is of the environment on campus for GLBTQ members of the community. We’ll be sure to share the results with everyone.”
In an email correspondence with The Irish Rover, Dacey expressed the hope that “the survey results can be used in a constructive manner to stimulate dialogue and thought” about GLBTQ issues on campus.
“We all share the common goal of Notre Dame being a welcoming and supportive place, and we believe we will make progress on this goal through respectful, truthful dialogue,” he said.
Dacey wrote, “We did not target specific groups. Instead, we tried to spread the survey to as many people as possible through facebook, listservs, etc.”
In an email to The Rover, Jackie Emmanuel, president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), wrote, “[W]e hope that some of the responses, particularly those in the comments, will contest the idea that Notre Dame is perfectly accepting/supporting of the members of our GLBTQ community.” PSA has advocated for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the university’s non-discrimination clause and hosted a campus-wide “Coming Out Day” event this fall.
Others have raised concerns that the survey is an inadequate gauge of current attitudes about GLBTQ issues on campus.
“Non-response bias could be a concern,” said Notre Dame political science professor David Nickerson. “I would wager that people sympathetic to GLBT rights were more likely to respond, so the survey probably overstates the level of support for the GLBT community on the campus as a whole,” he said.
Furthermore, Nickerson pointed out that knowing the response rate would enable researchers to estimate the extent to which non-response bias affects the survey results.
“The magnitude of this bias is impossible to know without conducting a survey with a much higher response rate,” he said.
Christian Smith, Notre Dame professor of sociology and executive director of the Center for Social Research, echoed Nickerson’s comments. Stressing the difficulty of conducting accurate social surveys, he commented, “Simply asking an entire population to complete a survey without sampling, incentives, and methods to track completions always leads to invalid results. The non-response biases are almost always fatal, because the survey data end up representing mostly the people most invested in the issue that the survey is about, which usually turns out to be the polar extremes.”
Smith described the work involved in conducting accurate surveys.
“To collect reliable survey data, one always has to take a good sample of the population and then do the work to get a high completion rate,” he stated. “Otherwise, the data collected end up telling us nothing of real value. Even worse, the data collected can be misleading in their implications.”
Nickerson also noted one exception to the “relatively neutral” tone of the survey, in a question that asked whether “Notre Dame is in the homophobic Stone Ages when it comes to serving the needs of the GLBTQ community.”
According to Nickerson, an inquiry regarding the “homophobic Stone Ages” has no point of reference for the majority of students confronted with the question. “Even if the respondent had an idea of the era,” asked Nickerson,” would he or she really know what conditions were like during that period?”
One of the questions on the survey asks whether “there should be an officially approved gay and lesbian student club and/or gay-straight alliance (GSA)” at Notre Dame. The survey also asks those completing the questionnaire to identify their affiliation to the university and included optional sections asking for personal contact information and sexual orientation.
The survey ends with a response box, requesting additional comments regarding GLBTQ life at Notre Dame. The timeframe for the survey is not stated.
The circulation of the survey comes at the onset of “StaND Against Hate Week” 2011, a week of activities dedicated raising awareness of hate and discrimination, especially as it is directed towards gay and lesbian persons. “StaND Against Hate Week” is one of the many university observances that seeks to establish a spirit of inclusiveness and a supportive community for gay and lesbian students.
A couple weeks prior, Brian Sims, billed as “the first and only gay football captain in NCAA history,” spoke at the PSA’s Rally for Diversity event. His stated goal was to encourage GLBTQ athletes and allies to fight against prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The ladies of The Rover staff agree: Ray Korson is a scholar and a gentleman. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.