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U of S health survey results remain inaccessible to students

By in News

Every third year, the U of S participates in a nation-wide health survey. Some universities have published summaries of their data, yet the U of S has never released the report. 

Some students and staff became aware of the university’s decision not to release these results after some National College Health Assessment data was shared at a Peer Health’s volunteer orientation in early September. They expressed concern about the lack of transparency and potential discrepancies in the data, wondering whether the information was being hidden and why. 

Peter Hedley, director of student affairs and services at the U of S, says that transparency is a consideration for the university and that there are no discrepancies in the U of S data.

“We are regularly talking about what we’re doing and what the data is telling us,” Hedley said.  “It’s crucial that we’re transparent with students because students pay fees on campus regarding front line services and we are accountable to them — we absolutely are.”

The purpose of the NCHA is to assist college health service providers, educators and administrators in collecting data about student health habits, behaviours and perceptions on prevalent health topics. 

A consideration for releasing the data is that campus-specific health statistics may help normalize health issues students experience. Hedley believes this is important for students, though indicating administration has no current plans to release the data.

“I think it’s important that people not feel alone… We need people to know that that’s not the case, and that there are supports [available] for them,” Hedley said. “There is a student to student connection thing and we need to think about fostering those connections.” 

One of the insights from this year’s NCHA is that the U of S has reportedly seen an increase in students self-reporting various health concerns compared to in 2016. Hedley believes this could be in part due to increased health education; in the same time period, students also reported receiving more health-related information that before.

“I think some of it is prevalence of the issue and I think some of it is actually people’s understanding of the nature of mental health,” Hedley said. 

Hedley and his team currently share parts of the NCHA data with some undergraduate and graduate student forums. However, they only present portions of the U of S­-specific data and to certain student groups; not all students have equal access.

Hedley says that if the data were to be released, it would necessitate some planning from the university to do it responsibly.

“I wouldn’t completely eliminate the possibility [of releasing the NCHA data] but I don’t know that we would drop an entire report,” Hedley said. “I think we’d really need to think about how we would do that in a responsible way that provided context.”

Scientific reports often include a literature review with an introduction, methods, data collection and analysis strategy sections, giving readers the insight and information needed to evaluate the statistics. Kent Kowalski, the associate dean academic in the College of Kinesiology, has not seen the NCHA data but speaks to research methods in general.

“If you’re just given the statistics, you have no context for how that data might have been collected,” Kowalski said. “The best thing is to work with the groups that are probably impacted by the data to find out what’s the best way that they might want to see the results so they can understand it and see the implications.”

The U of S will continue to use NCHA data to inform their decisions on programming and resources though it remains unclear whether they will publish the results.

Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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