VCU program facilitates connection between students and administration

Photo illustration by Ni Sang

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

Students can share their opinions with the VCU administration through a program that uses text messages to streamline communication.

VCU Universe, a program developed by the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success, began in September of 2019. It has now grown to include more than 700 enrolled students, said Manny Liban, communications director for the office.

The program serves as an opportunity for students to provide their thoughts to the university in an efficient manner. The university can then use them to influence policy.

“We certainly learn from them and take them very seriously,” Liban said.

The program works by sending prompts to students via text. Liban said the responses, which are managed by VCU Technology Services, are kept anonymous and only the respondent’s phone number is recorded.

Katelyn Farrell, a sophomore theater major, said she thinks students would participate in the program because many are already talking about university-related issues.

“I feel like if enough people answer, they will have to pay attention,” Farrell said. “If they sent out a question and enough people answered it, and they didn’t listen, they’d look bad.”

Liban said the program asked students over the summer how they were feeling about the coronavirus. After receiving an “overwhelming” number of responses, the university is still processing answers and hasn’t sent out a new prompt in a few months. About half of enrolled students, or 287, responded to the prompt.

Once responses have been analyzed, they are given a score between minus one and one. A score of minus one correlates to a negative emotion while one is positive.

An example prompt on VCU Universe’s website reads, “Under the current circumstances, how are you feeling about finals this semester?”

The registered student in the example responded, “Got to the library a bit late yesterday, but put in extra time today, feeling ready and confident!”

“It really dials in how students are feeling depending on those responses,” Liban said.

Liban said an ideal sample size for the prompts would be half the student population.

Meera Gandhi, a freshman biology major, said she would consider signing up for VCU Universe. She’s unsure whether the program will be successful, but she hopes to see questions about new clubs and campus programs that are under consideration.

“It’s not a vote, where our decision means anything, but it’s just for VCU to know how everyone’s feeling,” Gandhi said. “It’s still their decision in the end.”

Undeclared freshman Charlotte Bloor said she would like to use the software and wants to see questions about dorm and building renovations. However, she thinks it may not be effective.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the software is just a gesture, something to show VCU cares, though they won’t really use it like that,” Bloor said.

Bloor said the program could improve by allowing students to see how others responded to the prompt.

“I think for other students to see what the whole student body is thinking, that would be helpful.” Bloor said.

Undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students can enroll in the program through universe.vcu.edu.

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