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Most juniors and seniors would return to campus for the spring if allowed, and other takeaways from recent Senate survey

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Results from an Undergraduate Senate survey released Tuesday evening reveal diverging priorities among students regarding inviting undergraduates to campus in spring.

The survey asked about participants’ happiness with their current home situation and opinions on the return of juniors and seniors to campus. It also left space for additional comment.

The survey, sent to all Stanford students, is still collecting results. As of 7 p.m. on Friday, the survey had 1,361 responses with 1,051 responses from undergraduates — including 367 juniors and 379 seniors. The margin of error for undergraduates was 3%, and the graduate sample, 308 respondents, was not large enough to be representative.

If the University allowed upperclassmen to return to campus, 56% of juniors and 55% of seniors responded “definitely yes” to “Do you plan to live on campus in the Spring, if allowed.” 10% of juniors and 12% of seniors responded “definitely not.”

The overall consensus among undergraduates was to allow juniors and seniors to return to campus if medical experts deemed the risk acceptable, with 60% of undergraduate students responding “strongly agree” and only 8% responding “strongly disagree.”

When the data was broken down by class, undergraduate students still broadly favored allowing upperclassmen to return to campus if medical experts deemed the risk acceptable. 53% of frosh, 48% of sophomores, 63% of juniors and 65% of seniors responded “strongly agree.” 

Graduate students were more divided but generally supported the opposite sentiment. Only 16% of graduate students responded “strongly agree” while 36% responded “strongly disagree” to “Stanford should allow Juniors and Seniors to return to campus if medical experts deem the risk acceptable.”

A higher percentage of students who did not identify as low-income supported returning to campus versus those who identified as low-income. In response to “Stanford should allow Juniors and Seniors to return to campus if medical experts deem the risk acceptable,” 50% of undergraduates that identified as low-income answered “strongly agree,” compared to 63% of undergraduates that did not identify as low-income. 23% of survey respondents self-identified as low-income.

More students who expressed being unhappy in their current living situations wanted campus to reopen for juniors and seniors in the spring. 38% of students that responded “happy clearly describes my feelings” about their current living situation answered “strongly agree” that the University should allow juniors and seniors to return to campus if medical experts deem the risk acceptable. That percentage doubled to 76% among undergraduates that responded “happy does not describe my feelings.” 

Students’ opinions on reopening also differed depending on their current time zone. When asked if they would live on campus if allowed, 58% of undergraduates in Pacific Standard Time (PST) responded “definitely yes,” 45% in a time zone with a one to three-hour difference from PST responded “definitely yes” and 61% in a time zone four or more hours different from PST responded “definitely yes.”

The survey included a checklist asking students to identify reasons they either supported or did not support allowing juniors and seniors on campus for the spring. 41% of graduate students and 51% of undergraduates selected “We should follow the guidance of medical experts” for this question. 

Undergraduates and graduate students differed in priorities selected for this response. 66% of undergraduate students cited “Seniors should get a chance to be on campus before graduating” and “It’ll improve the mental health of many students.” Only 26% of graduate students cited the latter reason.

In contrast, the two most common reasons selected by graduates were “I don’t trust other students to behave safely” and “I am worried about the potential contribution to community spread.” Within the “additional comments” section, several students expressed concerns about noncompliance. 

Others commented that students deserved to make their own informed choices and that the low number of COVID-19 cases on campus demonstrated the feasibility of reopening.

16% of graduate students compared to 54% of undergraduates said “Students should be able to make their own informed decisions.” 

Some students in the “other reasons” and “additional comments” section said they believed their mental health would dramatically improve if they were able to be on campus. However, students also expressed concerns about the negative mental health impact of restricting campus regulations and anxiety about noncompliance.

In response to questions from The Daily regarding the capacity to provide mental health resources to off-campus students, Counseling and Psychological Services Director Bina Patel wrote, “We continue to do our very best to support students and to work on solutions to the challenges facing students through the pandemic and as campus re-opens.”

Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) President Vianna Vo ’21 shared concerns that student expectations could contrast with the reality of a potentially isolating and restrictive on-campus experience in a Friday memo from ASSU executives to Vice Provost Susie Brubaker-Cole.

A few students in the additional comments mentioned similar worries describing isolating experiences on campus and raising concerns about the University of California, Berkeley’s issues of noncompliance and subsequent restrictive policies. Others worried that on-campus life would be an unfulfilling experience and potentially endanger community members’ physical wellbeing.

Some students worried that bringing more students on campus could result in re-housing current residents. Housing consolidation efforts during the winter quarter required students in six residences to change dorms. 57% of undergraduates on campus responded that it would be “extremely burdensome” to move to a different residence, with the percentage rising to 67% among students that identified as low-income. Vo wrote that it was important to prioritize current residents and mitigate stress from re-housing in the memo to Brubaker-Cole.

Senator Johnathan Lipman ’21 said the comment section was helpful in bringing attention to considerations “that are really important to a lot of people that haven’t surfaced in other contexts.”

Student perspectives on the ASSU executives memo differed in the survey comments. Some students criticized the memo as breaking with the interests of the broader student population, while others felt it was a realistic recommendation prioritizing community safety.  

Senator Danny Vinh Nguyen ’22 said he was interested in gauging student thoughts about community impact beyond students as well as issues of “over-policing.” Nguyen also said he felt it was important to be cognizant of the strains on Santa Clara County’s healthcare system, including the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Indigenous and people of color and service workers at the University, when making decisions. 

Nguyen said that while he is committed to representing the student population, “my personal concern is that as we bring more students in the same conditions that we’ve had, it’s only going to make it harder for workers who probably have to do even more.” 37% of graduate students and 28% of undergraduates selected “Stanford should prioritize service workers” in the survey.  

Lipman said the survey was created to collect student input before the University’s upcoming spring quarter update. President Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote in a Tuesday announcement that the University will release information about spring during the week of Feb. 22.

“I hope that the survey leads to student voices and what people want being an important part of the conversation in the decision made next week,” Lipman said.

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Kaushikee Nayudu '24 is a beat reporter covering mental health & disability-related issues for The Daily. She is from California and enjoys cooking and making Spotify playlists in her free time. Contact her at knayudu ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.
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Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Staff Writer for The Daily looking to major in Economics and Biology. She is a Seattle native and enjoys hiking in her free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.