Evolving Identities: Survey Changes over Time

Evolving Identities: Survey Changes over Time

In a recent session at the Association of Institutional Research (AIR), research analyst Allison BrckaLorenz and project associate Jana Clark presented on the evolution of survey items about two aspects of students’ identities: sexual orientation and gender identity. After discussing the many complications that can arise in writing such questions (e.g., cultural differences, changing terminology), they discussed the idea of “best practices” for writing identity questions. Often the best practices cited by queer scholars clash with the principles of best practice for survey researchers. After looking at several different versions of items that have been labeled as “best practices,” the presenters led the group in thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of items and recommendations.

Allison and Jana then shared with the audience how NSSE’s questions about sexual orientation and gender identity have evolved over time, and how the consequences of that evolution changed the data available for assessment and research. Gender identity was added to the NSSE instrument in 2014, giving students the opportunity to specify their particular gender identity in a write-in response.

Sexual orientation was added as an optional question to the NSSE instrument in 2013, and a write-in response option was added in 2014. In addition to several edits in 2017, NSSE made the sexual orientation question required, giving assessment professionals and researchers the ability to have a more realistic view of the engagement of non-straight students.