Inclusion in Association Data Collection

ACPA Demographic Standard Question Committee

ACPA – College Student Educators International is the comprehensive higher education and student affairs/services Association which lives out its long-held Core Values to support college student success. Two of these Core Values speak directly to our commitment to issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion:

  • Diversity, multicultural competence and human dignity; and
  • Inclusiveness in and access to Association-wide involvement and decision-making.

It is the Association’s attentiveness to issues of inclusion, opportunities to increase understanding and competence, and recognition that our own identity matters in the work that we do that brings thousands of members back to ACPA annually.  As an Association, ACPA strives to provide its members with meaningful and intentional professional development programs; knowledge grounded on best practices and research; and a nurturing environment for networking and learning opportunities. Consequently, 99.5% of respondents/members affirmed in the 2012 Membership Survey that “ACPA fulfills/supports/lives the Association values.”

In various formats (typically membership forms and assessments), ACPA asks members to self-describe a number of different professional, social and/or personal identity demographics. The Association uses this data to monitor trends over time through multiple instruments, analyze responses, opinions and satisfaction by identity area with data from a single instrument, and distribute targeted information about ACPA programs, events and services. Members can choose to provide information on their personal/social identities for ACPA to use for educational planning and event promotional purposes.

The quest for inclusiveness is considered to be a journey, rather than a destination as nomenclature, definitions, and attributions change with time and context.  In recent years, ACPA received feedback via the 2012 Membership Survey, the ACPA 2013 Convention Evaluation and the ACPA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board that some members have experienced these surveys or forms as marginalizing. Shortly after the ACPA 2013 Convention in Las Vegas, ACPA leaders from the Multiracial Network (MRN) and Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) wrote “An Open Letter to the ACPA Community” to highlight the importance of question and response option wording and to offer an educational moment for ACPA members who may encounter demographic questions in their work. It is through active participation as demonstrated by the Multiracial Network and the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs that brings about positive and forward change in ACPA, and we are grateful for their advocacy and involvement in the pursuit of new expectations.

For the past 18 months, a small group of ACPA Governing Board and International Office staff members have consulted widely across the Association to develop new standards for demographic questions in surveys and on membership or event registration forms. In our work, we consulted with current and former directorate leaders/members of Standing Committees and Commissions, educational researchers, assessment experts, Association professionals, convention volunteers, and social justice advocates to determine the most appropriate ways to develop questions that were sound psychometrically, yet did not create unintentional micro-aggressions for members. The end result was the creation of a proposal, approved by the ACPA Governing Board in December 2013, which documents standards for collecting and analyzing personal and/or social demographic information from members and/or event participants. The approved proposal also delineates questions most appropriate to ask via the individual membership form and professional development event registration form from those most appropriate to ask via supplemental assessment instruments to eliminate these concerns about exposure and privacy.

Going forward, it is the expectation that ACPA leaders and members who distribute surveys or create event registration forms sponsored by the Association will follow these new standards explicitly. Several of the required demographic questions are intentionally listed as free response options to allow members to self-describe these aspects of their identities so that they may inform future iterations of these questions and response options. A coding guide is available to ACPA leaders as a means of pre-determining coding expectations and to increase the ease of coding for future volunteers. We recognize, however, that demographic questions should be reviewed and updated annually by the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board and the Governing Board Director of Membership Development with respect to evolving terminology, language and definitions.

In the case where an exception to the standards is requested, the ACPA International Office will review the requested changes and consult with the appropriate Governing Board member(s) to ensure that the requested exception does not contain unintended micro-aggressions. Exception requests might include, but are not limited to: Research focus/questions using different language/terminology, data analysis does not rely on all questions in standards, or campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Campus Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval supersedes ACPA policies regarding demographic questions and response options in research cases, but according to the current ACPA Research Request Policy, “Research requests must fit with the mission and purpose of ACPA, be culturally appropriate, and comply with ACPA’s statement on non-discrimination and ethical principles.”

A copy of the new ACPA Demographic Questions Standards is now available for your review and consideration for use on your campus or in your work.

As previously stated, these standards will be reviewed annually by the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board and the Governing Board Director of Membership Development to ensure alignment with ACPA’s values, member feedback and ever-evolving nomenclature and definitions. During the drafting of this proposal the authors experienced several challenges/questions that future ACPA leaders should monitor and further evaluate. We believe those issues are worth noting as they more fully describe our journey, and not just this initial set of standards:

  • ACPA’s aspirations are global, yet its membership is overwhelmingly from the United States.  Many of the demographic questions proposed contain cultural references or terminology rooted in United States culture and history. As ACPA’s membership continues to grow outside of the United States, the individual membership form, event registration form and assessment demographic questions may need to be revised to reflect a more global set of questions and response alternatives.
  • ACPA does not currently have the capability to gather information about the relationship between a member’s country of origin, citizenship and/or country of residency. This information would be valuable in more fully understanding the global nature of student affairs/services work and the Association’s reach. Asking for this information via the membership or event registration form places members in the position of having to disclose their immigration status, which is unrelated to the goal of the information gathering. Should ACPA consider adopting demographic questions regarding citizenship in the future, it may be important to explore any possible legal implications for collecting and storing this data as well as to consider that immigration status is fluid and complex.
  • There was great discussion about whether asking members about languages spoken would build expectations of programs and services being offered in multiple languages to best meet member needs. Although not currently a component of ACPA’s principles, language accommodations are commonly cited as a component of Universal Design. Questions about the primary languages used by members has been added to the current standards, but these questions may be considered in the future as additions to the individual membership form and/or event registration form if ACPA expands its Universal Design principles to include languages used.

We would like to, once again, state our gratitude to the Multiracial Network and the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs for their advocacy and involvement in this significant ACPA advancement. We are also grateful to the many ACPA leaders, members and educational partners who supported this important work and we anticipate that current and future ACPA members will continue to experience the Association’s Core Values lived out in all arenas, including membership forms and experience or satisfaction surveys. If you feel that they do not, we want to hear from you to continue making positive and necessary edits to these standards. While we have reached this initial destination in the form of established standards, we continue on the journey of inclusion, individually and as an Association. That is what makes ACPA and its members so special.

ACPA Demographic Question Standard Committee

Chris Moody (American University-DC), ACPA Past-Director of Membership Development

Kathy Obear (Alliance for Change Consulting), ACPA Director of Equity and Inclusion

Heather Gasser (Michigan State University), ACPA Director of Membership Development

Tricia Fechter, ACPA-College Student Educators International

Stanton Cheah (University of Maryland at College Park)

Special acknowledgements:

ACPA Multiracial Network (MRN)

Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs (CMA)

ACPA Equity & Inclusion Advisory Board

Commission for Spirituality, Faith, Meaning and Religion

Kathleen G. Kerr, University of Delaware

John Dugan, Loyola University Chicago

Jennifer Keup, The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition

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