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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

VSG Greek Life Campus Climate Survey discarded because of concerns with its design

NPHC leaders report being left out of VSG discussions surrounding the survey.
Hallie Williams
The NPHC house on Greek Row, as photographed on Nov. 15, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hallie Williams)

Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) released a campus climate survey on Greek Life via email on Nov. 5, 2020, but the data was never shared outside of VSG because of concerns with the survey’s structure. 

Per former VSG Vice President Shun Ahmed, Vanderbilt administrators recommended that VSG members remove many of the questions they had drafted, due to legal and structural reasons. 

Developing the Greek Life Campus Climate Survey

Per Barton Christmas, then-head of VSG’s Campus Alliance Committee, the VSG executive board asked his committee in the summer of 2020 to assess campus opinions on the Abolish Greek Life (AGL) movement

“VSG did not want to necessarily, at the time, take a hardline stance,” Christmas said. “I think there was a lot of division within VSG about how to approach the issue, as there is within the whole campus.”

Per Ahmed, VSG could not take any meaningful steps on the issue without first surveying campus opinions.  

“This university functions more like a business than like a school,” Ahmed said. “They need to see numbers, they need to see stats and they need to see exactly what people think.”

To fill this data gap, the Campus Alliance Committee consulted with the Vanderbilt Office for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness (PIE) to create a campus climate survey, Ahmed said. 

According to a university representative, the survey was the first time PIE worked with VSG, and its role remained strictly advisory.

“When PIE works with a campus group, it is as an advisor/consultant,” the representative said in an email to The Hustler. “PIE advises about how to frame questions and create a robust instrument. The PIE representative(s) will present and explain recommendations, but the final decisions about questions and execution are made by the group leading the survey.”

According to Ahmed and the university representative, PIE administrators asked the committee to remove open response questions because of the legal liability risk they presented for the university. 

“Because of the sensitive nature of the survey, PIE recommended VSG consider the potential risks if respondents provided information regarding instances of policy violations, and the violations were not properly reported by VSG,” the university representative said. “It is our understanding that, following internal discussions and consultation with Greek leaders, VSG chose to remove the open-ended questions.”

In addition, Ahmed said that the committee was asked to remove any questions that PIE did not consider neutral, including those that asked students how they would like to see Greek houses reallocated and how harmful they felt Greek Life was to Vanderbilt’s campus. Other allegedly biased questions asked participants if they had friends in Greek Life and how comfortable they felt at Greek events.

“The survey [that the student body] actually got was about a quarter of what the original survey was,” Ahmed said. “But since it was such an intensive, sensitive topic to them, the administration cut out so many questions.”

According to a university representative, the final decisions about survey questions were made fully by VSG. 

Ahmed and Christmas both said that PIE recommended removing a question distinguishing the IFC and Panhellenic Council from other types of Greek Life, including pre-professional fraternities, the NPHC and international fraternities. 

According to the university representative, PIE “advised VSG regarding options to distinguish between the groups or focus on Greek Life as a whole” but did not make the final decision to remove the question. 

For Ahmed, the extended process required to develop the campus climate survey was typical of roadblocks she had seen from Vanderbilt administrators in the past. 

“This university is so much quicker to put hoops and burdens and boundaries for people than actually encourage the students to be able to go out and have those conversations,” Ahmed said. “Unless it’s done in the way that they specifically want it done or it benefits them directly, they [the administration] don’t want to hear it.”

NPHC Response to the Survey’s Design

Nnenna Nwaezeapu, former NPHC president, objected to the survey’s design because it did not distinguish between responses meant for IFC and Panhellenic and those meant for the NPHC.

“It felt like they left out the entire Black population and really devalued NPHC,” Nwaezeapu said. 

Nwaezeapu’s main concern with the survey was that students could not direct their responses specifically towards the NPHC, Panhellenic Council or IFC. 

“The Greek Life survey [was] talking about, ‘Do you think there is racism in these Greek organizations? Do you think that there is classism, a wealth gap? Is it inclusive?’” Nwaezaepu said. “There was no way to indicate whether students were talking about IFC, Panhel or NPHC.”

Nwaezeapu said that the survey failed to provide helpful information for the NPHC because she could not sort responses to see what students had marked as problems within the NPHC. 

“No one in there thought about how Black students or NPHC students were going to be able to answer the survey and, if NPHC was supposed to be getting any information and data out of this, what questions would be helpful to ask of Black students and to ask of NPHC members,” Nwaezeapu said.

Per Nwaezeapu, the survey data could also have hurt NPHC, since VSG and administrators could not sort whether complaints about Greek Life were directed towards IFC, Panhellenic or NPHC.

“You’re also lumping us [the NPHC] in by using an umbrella term like ‘Greek Life’ so nobody’s sure what they’re taking the survey to really answer,” Nwaezeapu said.

Per Christmas, an older draft of the survey included questions to distinguish NPHC results from the IFC and Panhellenic results, but his committee deleted them based on recommendations from the PIE.

“[NPHC] does have a very, very different history. Ideally, we wanted a survey that acknowledged that history,” Christmas said. “We ended up with a much shorter, truncated survey because of logistic things that [PIE] told us.”

Decision to not Publish Survey Results

Nwaezeapu said she emailed Ahmed, Christmas, and former VSG President Veer Shah on Nov. 18, 2020 following the survey’s release and later met with them to discuss her concerns. 

Because of Nwaezeapu’s feedback, the committee decided not to utilize the survey data, Christmas said. 

“We basically decided, this survey probably was not built to a standard that we felt comfortable with in terms of incorporating the NPHC and the Black community’s voices, to be quite frank,” Christmas said. “Retrospectively, it was this thing that we wanted to make sure that we were doing it right.” 

Despite not publishing the information, Ahmed said that a few senators have cited the data during Senate meetings and that the data has given several committee chairs focused issues to work on. 

Per Ahmed, the decision not to use the data also stemmed from a redefinition of VSG’s role in relation to the AGL movement. She said that VSG instead turned their attention toward building up other resources—like the Career Center, student food bank, and test bank materials—rather than solidifying a unified VSG stance on AGL.

NPHC’s Relationship with VSG

Per Christmas and Nwaezeapu, the Campus Alliance Committee never invited NPHC to join conversations about developing the survey, though IFC and Panhellenic Council leaders were involved. 

“They didn’t reach out to me, or they had to be reminded that NPHC was an organization,” Nwaezeapu said. “From the first semester, there has been a lack of communication and what seems like an unwillingness to add a Black voice to the conversation.”

Per 2020-21 Panhellenic Council President Susan Hollenbeck, IFC and Panhellenic Council leaders repeatedly had to ask VSG members to include NPHC in VSG meetings about Greek Life. 

“The majority of the conversations around Greek Life this year have really only focused on IFC and Panhellenic, and within VSG it seemed to be no different,” Hollenbeck said in an email to The Hustler. “We want to ensure that everyone in Greek Life is informed and included in these conversations, so that has to include NPHC.”

For Nwaezeapu, this particular exclusion of NHPC is part of a larger pattern across campus. 

“We really do have two campuses here,” Nwaezeapu said. “We have Black Vandy and we have white Vandy. There are a lot of issues that Black students face that VSG is not clearly aware about, and in this situation, it seemed like they didn’t care.”

Nwaezeapu expressed hope that the relationship between VSG and NPHC will improve with VSG President Hannah Bruns and Vice President Kayla Prowell in office. 

“They [Bruns and Prowell], from the beginning of their campaign, were looking to us as leaders in the Black community here at Vanderbilt,” Nwaezeapu said. “I’m very excited for their presidency and the work and the community building that can be built between VSG and NPHC and Black students as a whole.” 

Bruns said that her administration is considering ways of discussing Greek Life as part of their goals around diversity and inclusion.

“I’m not exactly sure what the format will be to address [Greek Life] yet; that’s something we plan on working out this summer,” Bruns said in a message to The Hustler. “As for the [Campus Climate] survey, I have been trying to track down the responses to see them for myself but it’s been a little bit difficult.”

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About the Contributors
Emma Mattson
Emma Mattson, Former Copy Editor
Emma Mattson ('21) wrote for the News section. She studied communication arts, Spanish and German in the College of Arts and Science. In her spare time, she eats Grins obsessively, listens to indie music and tries to pet all the dogs on campus.
Hallie Williams
Hallie Williams, Former Deputy Multimedia Director
Hallie Williams (‘24) is a student in Peabody College studying Human & Organizational Development. You can reach her at [email protected].
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3 years ago

While my multiple years at Vanderbilt so far have shown me how far the administration is willing to go to block student voices, it’s somehow still shocking to me that they blocked the survey from asking questions about friends in Greek life, comfort at Greek events, etc