Editorial Board | May 3, 2013, 5:35 p.m.
At the end of a school year, Pomona College students are asked to participate in a number of surveys that help various campus entities and administrators gauge how their resources are working for students and how they can better tailor them to the needs and desires of students in the future. In recent weeks, solicitations for participation in these surveys have abounded—but it seems as though more of them have raffles and prizes attached than ever before. For submitting a course review or filling out a survey about residential life or student affairs, students are offered the chance to win hundreds of dollars in gift cards or gadgets.
It is difficult to tell whether these incentives are actually becoming more common, but it certainly feels as though the campus leaders looking for survey responses increasingly believe that they won't get sufficient feedback if they aren't offering an attractive prize. This Editorial Board is concerned with this trend, which fits in with a larger theme of student apathy on the 5C campuses.
Earlier this semester, we commented on the extremely low attendance at fora held to give students a chance to meet and ask questions of the new Dean of Faculty candidates. We believe that instance to be one example of the puzzling lack of drive that students possess when it comes to the power they can have to change the institution that governs their residential, extracurricular, and academic lives. Examples of this problem are often criticized within TSL's pages, from the inefficacy of student government and its low voter participation in elections to the shortage of writers eager to express their views in TSL's own Opinions section.
It is obvious that some students are willing to spend a great deal of energy on their passions and ambitions, as evidenced by the efforts of students who helped make major strides in the unionization and divestment campaigns this semester. Both groups have recently reaped the rewards of their push to gain ground with the administration. These two groups are indicators of the types of change that Pomona students can have. But we should not forget the results of polls conducted earlier in the semester, which showed that the vast majority of students were unsure about whether they supported or even understood divestment, suggesting that not enough students are making significant efforts to learn about and have opinions on even the most salient campus debates.
At Pomona and at the 5Cs generally, students are given a remarkable number of small and large opportunities to affect how the college is run. But the extent to which these opportunities are shrugged off by students is equally remarkable. We need to make a concerted effort to reverse this; it is inconsistent with the values of our institution and the qualities in which our student body takes pride.
Perhaps we can start with surveys: Let's make sure that campus leaders know that they don't have to tempt us with gift cards and iPads just to get our opinion on campus resources. After all, such services are designed for no other purpose than to benefit students. If we start responding selectively to surveys that offer incentives, it sets an unnecessary and selfish precedent, and survey creators will have no choice but to increasingly offer more expensive prizes. Most entities that serve students likely can't afford to raffle off three iPads and several $100 gift cards just to solicit responses to a five-minute survey. These surveys are created specifically to give students a voice about what they need and want from their college experience, and if our comments and answers are utilized effectively, it should be incentive enough.
In order to effect active change on our campuses, we must disregard flashy incentives and instead place worth on the opportunity to make a change in the first place.