by Akeisha Lari and Sania Hameed
From April 4th to 11th, 2019, we – Akeisha Lari and Sania Hameed – ran 7 polls on Twitter to engage folks on the topic of equity in Student Affairs (SA). In this article, we’ll be sharing our process for running polls, as well as reflecting on the results of the polls.
We decided to run #SAequity polls for a variety of reasons. The most time-sensitive of those was to build up to the #SAchat on equity (April 15th). We also wanted to learn more about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in SA to better understand the perspectives of our colleagues, as this would help us align and design our “Walking” the Talk: Taking Equity One “Step” at a Time CACUSS19 pre-conference session. Additionally, while we were hoping to encourage more open discussions around equity via the #SAchat, we also recognized that it can be challenging to have such conversations, particularly on a public forum like Twitter. Our hope was that anonymous polls might help reduce barriers to engagement – particularly for folks who don’t feel as comfortable discussing equity in a public setting, but would still like to contribute in some way.
As we were determining what to ask in the polls, we encountered a number of challenges, including the obvious difficulty of condensing equity concepts into tweets. As neither of us had ever used the Twitter poll function before, we also had to take into consideration that aside from the general 280 character limit per question, each poll option was limited to 25 characters each. (For some perspective, typing out “equity, diversity and inclusion” alone is 31 characters!). Another area of difficulty was determining what kind of questions could be translated into a poll format rather than discussion questions. While character limits challenged us to think creatively, we still didn’t want to compromise inclusion for the sake of brevity. That’s why we chose to expand on definitions and clarify terms as needed in order to support participants in engaging with the polls. (This was particularly important given the anonymous nature of the polls, as we weren’t sure whether folks would be comfortable asking clarifying questions). Lastly, we decided to keep the polls open for as long as Twitter would allow (7 days), to give folks as much time as possible to engage.
To promote the polls, aside from tweeting from our own accounts, we asked CACUSS to support us by retweeting the polls from the @cacusstweets account. We also shoulder-tapped friends and colleagues to vote, retweet and share the #SAequity polls with their networks. To increase our reach of our polls, we heavily utilized the following hashtags: #SAchat, #SAgrad, #SApro, and #SAcdn. While the polls were live, we promoted the latest polls by reflecting on results from previous polls, hoping our commentary might encourage further poll engagement.
Posting the polls
Now, onto the actual polls. As mentioned, we facilitated 7 polls, over 7 (business) days and we kept them open for 7 days – lots of 7’s! We posted each day between 12-1pm ET, and found that while the first day of the poll got the most responses, there were folks that continued to vote throughout the 7 days. We also learned that despite our expanded definitions of concepts and acronyms, the depth of some of the questions needed us to further clarify or give examples to help people understand the poll choices (such as in Poll #2). On that note, we also don’t know how many folks responded to polls based solely on information from the poll tweet vs. the follow up clarification tweets. For example, Poll #7 linked to the CACUSS competency model section on levels of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion competency, but folks may have voted simply based on the level titles, i.e. Core, Intermediate, Advanced.
On average, we had 51 votes per poll, with 354 votes cast over the 7 polls – we really appreciate folks’ engagement! The polls offered more than just an opportunity to engage in voting; for some, it led to dialogue about equity-related topics – which was a great lead up to the #SAchat. Just as the #SAequity polls built up momentum for the #SAchat, one of the chat questions – and a number of discussions – involved reflections on the polls, which encouraged more voting. There are also a few limitations with regards to analyzing participation. One limitation of the polls is that due to the anonymous nature of the polls, we can’t tell how many participants are unique or are repeat voters across the 7 polls. We also can’t assume any correlations across polls, as we don’t know anything about the voters.
Primary takeaways and Possible interpretations
1st poll leading up to the #SAchat on April 15th! What acronym is primarily used at your institution to talk about equity work? (Feel free to reply with your institution name or tweet an acronym/term if it’s not on the list!) #SAcdn #SAgrad #SAequity
— Sania H 🎀 (@hameed_sania) April 3, 2019
EDI was the clear winner as the acronym most commonly used to refer to equity work within institutions. This gives us a sense of shared language and terminology within the field, and is helpful in terms of communication.
— Akeisha Lari (She/Her) (@akeisha09) April 4, 2019
Equity-seeking groups refers to communities that have historically been – and continue to be – marginalized within society, solely due to membership to that community. While definitions vary, the term often refers to Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, women, and folks who identify as LGBTQIA2S. What was interesting about this poll is that there was consistently a 1/3 to 2/3 split for as long as the poll was open.
Reminder: polls are completely anonymous, even to the host! https://t.co/Z933evcifM
— Akeisha Lari (She/Her) (@akeisha09) April 5, 2019
We asked this question because the notion of being one’s authentic self is often talked about within SA as a field, particularly with regards to bringing one’s whole self to work. Startlingly, 43% of folks do not feel comfortable being their authentic selves in the context of SA and their workplace, which is a sobering result. As we have no data points with regards to voter identity, we can’t draw correlations between polls, but what is clear – regardless of whether or not this sample mirrors the landscape of student affairs in Canada – is that there are folks who feel less included or welcome, and therefore SA culture has ways it can and should improve.
Reminder: polls are completely anonymous, even to the host! https://t.co/bDMPLnlPVt
— Sania H 🎀 (@hameed_sania) April 8, 2019
This poll shows that about a little less than half the folks who voted are very confident with regards to making referrals to appropriate equity offices at their institutions; confident here refers to knowing which office is the most appropriate, as well as knowing how to navigate the referral process. However, this level of confidence is something that should – and can realistically – be possible for all professionals. We are not by any means blaming or shaming folks who selected slightly, or moderately. Rather, our takeaway here is the importance of how knowledge of effective referrals can and should be emphasized and shared via both onboarding processes and by institutionally offered refreshers on referral processes throughout the academic year, in order to support us in doing our work.
Reminder: polls are completely anonymous, even to the host! https://t.co/Z933evcifM
— Akeisha Lari (She/Her) (@akeisha09) April 9, 2019
The two key challenges selected by voters with regards to barriers to engaging with equity work were 1) a fear of making mistakes, and 2) a lack of institutional support. Both options received a third of the votes each. These results provoke more questions. What roles can all of us play in making these barriers less challenging? How can we structurally ensure that opportunities for deepening our collective understanding of equity are prioritized individually and institutionally, in order to increase competence and decrease fear? What systemic changes are needed so that institutions better support and celebrate folks doing equity work?
#SAequity poll 6! When I hear the word privilege I feel:
— Sania H 🎀 (@hameed_sania) April 10, 2019
It was heartening to see so many respondents select a self-reflective response in relation to privilege! We were somewhat surprised by the breakdown of percentages for this poll, as both of us have encountered more Guilt or Shame and Defeated or Powerless feelings in our professional practice. Response bias may be one of the reasons for this breakdown, as folks participating in equity polls may be more attuned to thinking about privilege. One fifth of respondents were Motivated to take action, which ties nicely to the notion of ‘ally’ being a verb, and not a noun.
— Sania H 🎀 (@hameed_sania) April 11, 2019
This poll was heavily discussed in the #SAchat – largely due to many folks being surprised by the 64% Intermediate result. Folks offered several hypotheses for why the percentage might be so high, one suggestion being response bias (as mentioned in Poll 6). Others questioned the efficacy of individual self-assessment, the tendency to select a ‘middle’ option, and whether the full competency descriptions were read prior to casting a vote. This ultimately led to a deep discussion around the purpose and use of competency models – but we won’t get into that here. For us, our hope is that folks can use the competency model as a guide for illuminating concrete actions that all of us can work on and work towards, regardless of our level. Core may focus more on learning and awareness, and Advanced may centre on institutional and structural change, but Intermediate also has a strong role to play – particularly programmatically and with regards to advocacy – and we are optimistic that this work is underway.
Post-polls Wrap Up
Thank you for making it this far! We hope that this recap helped to make the poll results accessible to more people. We strongly recommend checking out the #SAchat to learn more about the Twitterverse discussions on equity. A simple way to read through the #SAchat in chronological order can be found here (shout out to Megan Mackenzie for compiling this!). While the #SAequity polls are well past their 7 day runtime, it’s never too late to join in the #SAchat – we welcome folks to engage as much and as long as possible (though do tag us at @akeisha09 and @hameed_sania!). As the newly selected CACUSS Equity-Seeking Groups Community of Practice Co-Chairs, we’re planning to run more #SAequity polls in the future, and hope you’ll join us! Don’t have a twitter? We’ll be posting links to the CACUSS message board for folks to join in there. Not a CACUSS member? Feel free to comment below, email us, or stay tuned for our next SA-Exchange post!
Lastly, if you and/or your colleagues are interested in a deep dive on equity and student affairs, join us for a full day pre-conference session on “Walking” the Talk: Taking Equity One “Step” at a Time at CACUSS19 – we hope to see some of you there!
Akeisha Lari (She/Her) is the Equity and Inclusivity Advisor at Ontario Tech University, who uses storytelling to build connections across differences and infuses equity principles into those connections to co-create inclusive communities.
Sania Hameed (She/Her) is a Career Educator at the University of Toronto, who deeply believes in the importance of relationship-building, and brings a strong equity lens to her work, particularly around issues of race and representation.