Self-Reported Stress Amongst NU-Q Students is Alarming, Survey Shows

Hatim Rachdi, Staff Reporter

(Photo/ The Consensus)

One out of every three Northwestern University in Qatar seniors self-reported a stress level of 10 out of 10 in a survey conducted by the Teaching and Pedagogy Committee at NU-Q. The committee is chaired by Scott Curtis, associate professor in residence, and the survey was designed and run by Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, an assistant professor in residence. It received an 84 percent response rate from the student body.

Mitchell became aware of anecdotal evidence regarding student stress through her exit tickets, which are mini assessments that her students fill at the end of every class and include an anonymous survey item to communicate their concerns. Mitchell wanted to investigate whether the stress was a shared pattern across other classes at NU-Q. “Even the very strong students, committed to their work, were struggling or having concerns,” said Mitchell. The university-wide survey results confirmed her concern, she added.

The survey is a part of a large effort by the Teaching and Pedagogy Committee to better understand students’ concerns during remote learning. It showed that the self-reported stress levels amongst students are generally high. Most respondents picked a stress level of eight out of 10. “Students are stressed across the board,” said Mitchell. Eighteen percent of the respondents reported the highest stress score. 

The distribution of student responses to the question: “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest, how would you rank the following? -Your stress level.” Chart based on data provided by Mitchell.

Mitchell wanted to be transparent about the survey results. She prepared and presented a report to the NU-Q leadership containing visualizations of the survey results. “I wanted to get it out to the community so that we can start thinking about what to do. It [preparing the report] was a meaningful part of my fall break,” she said.

The survey included open-ended questions, where some students elaborated on their well-being and stress. However, it is worthy to note that stress and wellbeing were measured through two survey items, asking the respondents to rate their stress and wellbeing respectively on a scale from one to ten. 

Accurate, valid and reliable mental health scales are generally multi-item questions scored in a rigorous manner throughout mental health literature. “The survey results, and especially those related to stress and mental health, are far more nuanced than can be understood within the survey itself,” said Keelie Sorel, director of Student Affairs at NU-Q. 

Mitchell expressed that the survey was intentionally made basic and quick. “Student stress … mental health—those items were very basic,” she said. She didn’t want it to be an additional burden on students given their already prolonged screen time due to remote learning. Mitchell was concerned about getting a high response rate. She wanted to move beyond anecdotal evidence about the student experiences so that they won’t be dismissed as “it’s just the complainers,” she said. “With this high response rate [84 percent], the data cannot be ignored,” Mitchell added. 

Sorel was not surprised by the survey results. “Given the myriad of concerns globally, and their impacts personally, the stress among the student population is not surprising or unexpected,” she said. However, the survey provides concrete insight into the student experiences of the online learning environment at NU-Q, she added.

As Sorel points out, stress is beyond just the academic life. “Pressure is not only coming from school, there are family issues we have to deal with because of the pandemic and so on. Collectively, it creates a lot of stress,” said Khadija Islow, a journalism and strategic communication senior. 

The Student Affairs department at NU-Q has prepared for a stressful remote semester through various activities. “Counseling and Wellness has provided a multi-session mindfulness course, yoga classes, and QPR trainings, which work to train the community on identifying when someone is struggling and how to help,” said Sorel. Student life organized Kahoot game nights, coffee chats, and dropped off pizzas, supplies, and resources for students living in the residence halls, she added.

Individualized mental health programming such as “Let’s Talk” was launched by Counseling and Wellness, in conjunction with the survey results. The program is “designed for students who want to talk to a counselor more casually,” Sorel said. Student Affairs also made the effort to reach out to students individually through emails, she added.  

For low-income international students, academic stress is coupled with part-time student jobs to maintain themselves financially. This adds additional stress. “Spending almost 70 hours doing school work online, and adding 20 hours a week of my online student job, adds more stress to my life,” said Amadou Jallow, a journalism and strategic communication senior. 

The distribution of seniors’ responses to the question: “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest, how would you rank the following? -Your stress level.Chart based on data provided by Mitchell.

Muhammad Sikandar Ali Chaudary, a journalism and strategic communication senior, emphasized the importance of implementing student-specific plans instead of simply extending deadlines. “Some weeks are better than others…. We need a flexible plan that is negotiated on a student to student basis with the faculty in each course,” he said. Despite the challenges, Jallow and Chaudary said they are grateful for having an online student job amid a global pandemic.  

Mitchell emphasized that seniors are the most stressed and need attention the most, given the results of the survey. 

“Senioritis, thinking about getting a job, thinking about graduation, thinking about friends that will leave… all add to the existing academic stress for seniors,” said Islow.

Student Affairs has incorporated asynchronous content into their regular programming to combat screen fatigue. These initiatives included “social justice reading groups, video content with academic tips, and dissemination of self-guided tools for stress relief like the Campus Wellness magazine, Headspace, online screenings for mental health,” said Sorel.

Mitchell urged her colleagues to listen to their students and adjust their courses as such to make sure we are a caring community. “If a professor cares about what their students think, I suggest they get an anonymous survey going in their class. Because there is a power imbalance and it is difficult for students to tell professors what’s really going on. Even if the professor thinks that students will tell them everything, it is not a fair assumption,” she said.

Note: The NU-Q administration only shared the quantitative results of the survey with The Daily Q. The administration did not share the qualitative data because of research privacy concerns in aims to preserve the anonymity of student participants in the survey. The Daily Q is committed to transparency and open-source access. The full quantitative data set can be found here

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