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No Norms Represented in Social Norms Campaign

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One hundred percent of students at the University at Albany have seen the colorful posters riddled throughout campus. They’re taped to pillars, tagged to doors and hung over urinals. You can’t possibly miss them. UAlbany’s “Did You Know? Social Norms Campaign” are everywhere, and I mean everywhere, presenting messages like “64 Percent Choose Not to Use Marijuana”. Every single cardstock sheet stamped with the mug of Damien saying “Great Danes Make Great Choices”.

They’re almost like crop circles, leaving students asking where they came from, why they’re here and what exactly are they trying to tell us. Very few of us, if any, actually buy into these statistics. In fact, I know that they’re often the butt of a joke amongst my friends and I, and I would bet good money we’re not alone on that one.

UAlbany’s website says the campaign is “designed to correct misperceptions about UAlbany students by providing members of the University community with accurate information about UAlbany students in the form of messages that are taken from annual student health surveys”. This seems to indicate that the Social Norms campaign was conceived as a direct response to UAlbany’s one-time reputation as a party school.

The poster itself claims that the survey was conducted by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), who anonymously polled 1,041 randomly selected UAlbany students. If this is accurate, that would mean these posters meant to demonstrate the good choices of students are based off of less than six percent of Albany’s near 18 thousand strong population. This is obviously an insufficient sample size to present as being indicative of the student body as a whole, yet they continue to be used for just that.

Furthermore, these posters often leave more questions than answers. I’ve taken the CAPS survey before and seeing the questions asked does help get an idea of where these claims are coming from. A poster claiming “75 Percent Don’t Let Alcohol Interfere With Having Safer Sex” seems to be based on a CAPS question asking directly “Do you let alcohol interfere with having safe sex?” That’s it; no parameters, no specifications, no place to clarify what you mean. So everyone who answers “no” gets grouped into that 75 percent, regardless of any variation most likely present.

That’s not to say these surveys don’t have any value. If analyzed correctly, surveys like these can be helpful indicators of medical and sociological trends for college students. But with such a limited sample size, UAlbany’s presenting of this campaign as being representative of campus life as a whole is both inaccurate and irresponsible. I understand the school wanting to better represent their focus and I never thought its reputation as a party school did justice to its academic successes. But a campaign like this does more to serve as a running joke than it does to serve the interests of the campus or the students.

1 Comment

  1. Ra
    October 10, 2018 at 9:23 am — Reply

    Actually, 1,041 randomly selected students from a population of about 18,000 is a pretty significant sample size and should tell us quite a bit about students with a relatively small margin of error if the survey was constructed properly. If the number was lower, say 100 students, you’d have reason to gripe about the findings on that basis, but as it stands sample size shouldn’t be an issue at all. Have you taken a stats class yet?

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