The Intellectual Life Review is an overarching program that is working on creating a vision for the University of Indianapolis over the next 10 to 15 years. One of the components of this program is the Student Life Review.

The Office of Student Affairs is leading the process and hosting Student Life Review Focus Groups. About 75 focus groups are being held so that UIndy students, staff and faculty can attend, according to Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli.

“We’re hoping to get everything from students that they both like [and] dislike, and what they would like to see UIndy transformed into,” Vitangeli said. “We’re getting all of that information. So we’re getting a broad perspective from graduate students, doctoral students, our School for Adult Learning students and our traditional undergraduate students, as well as faculty [and] staff.”

The focus groups, held at different times throughout the afternoon and evening,  are anonymous for participants, but the audio is recorded. At one of the sessions, Vitangeli explained that the university, sends the audio to be transcribed by a third-party outside of the university and all student identifiers are left out.

Participants are labeled by their voices, for example: “Voice 1” or “Voice 2.” The questions asked at each session are the same, although the way they are asked and the follow-up questions and conversations are different for each session, depending on the responses of the participants.

“We put some time and considerations into them [the questions] to try and make them applicable to everyone,” Assistant Dean of Students Julie Dannis said. “In the ones [focus groups] that I’ve led, sometimes discussions get a little off the questions that were being asked. But usually it’s good because they’re discussing something that we need to pay attention to. So I will let discussions go a little bit off track from the set amount of questions because I think the information is valuable.”

Vitangeli and Dannis said there are topics that are mentioned repeatedly. Dannis said this shows that those topics are meaningful, and she has begun to think about their importance.

Photo by Zoë Berg
Students attend a Student Life Review Focus Group in UIndy Hall. The groups met in residence halls, classrooms and UIndy Hall over the last three weeks of the first semester. The focus groups last about 30 to 45 minutes and have a snack or a meal for participants. Vitangeli encourages all students to attend the upcoming groups.

“Right now, we haven’t got a lot of the transcriptions back from the focus groups,” Vitangeli said. “But [in] the ones [focus groups] that I’ve participated in, students have had great ideas for ways that we can expand and broaden things like intramurals, support of athletics, looking at new student organizations, looking at ways we can have more themed floors like the honors and scholars floor on the fourth floor of Central [Hall], and just really broadening the scope of student life.”

Other suggestions include better advertising for events, co-curricular activities and UIndy itself. Many students said they like UIndy because of the size, location and ability to connect with faculty and staff. Vitangeli’s weekly activity emails have often been a common discussion topic, as well as internships, residence halls, dining services and parking.

Freshman political science major Danielle Merlo said her biggest concern was updating the dorms. She decided to come to the focus group after seeing an email sent by Vitangeli because she wanted to help the university. Merlo is optimistic about the university listening to the concerns she voiced.

“I think if enough people mention the same thing, they [university administrators] would definitely listen. Power comes in numbers,” Merlo said. “So I think that would be good. I hope that they listen because I think these are all pretty valid concerns.”

Heather Jurey is studying healthcare consumer advocacy through the School for Adult Learning and feels differently. Jurey said she was expecting staff from SAL to be at the focus group, and she came to talk to them about a problem she was experiencing in the program.

“For this, I think it was good. I mean for general knowledge, it works. But I don’t think it will change anything,” Jurey said. “Most of the time, when people from the department show up and hear you, they tend to make changes that way. But with this, it is no different than filling out a survey on paper, honestly.”

Vitangeli said the focus groups will allow administration to get more information than they would from just a survey, like what they sent out earlier this year.

“The survey will give us some general feedback, but with the focus group, you can really prod and hear from people individually about what they’re liking, dislike and [what they] want to see changed,” Vitangeli said.

The student focus groups are held in residence halls, classrooms and UIndy Hall. While many of the faculty focus groups are relatively small, the number of students who attend each focus group varies.

“There were only four students who attended the discussion,” junior political science major Sarah King said about the session she attended. “So I think it helped a lot because none of us would have said as much as we did, or been as open, if it had been a big crowd.”

In the larger focus groups, students may not have gotten to speak as much or answer each question in as much detail, but they were able to include more diverse topics of conversation.

“Student Affairs is just one division. So I think if we don’t make a concerted effort to get out and get feedback and capture experiences from everybody on campus and at the university, we could easily miss some perspectives,” Dannis said. “…So if we’re not paying attention to the different populations of campus, that’s going to hurt us in the long-run… In order to be successful, everyone has to buy in to what we’re doing. So if people are having trouble in a certain area, let’s capture that, be aware of that and look for an improvement. If we’re doing something well, let’s celebrate that.”

Vitangli said there will be more focus groups held in January and the Student Life Review will continue during the rest of the year.