Incoming freshmen at N.C. State and more than 100 other universities across the country this year are being given more than just a room assignment and a new student ID.
They will also be asked to fill out a survey about their religious and ideological views.
Freshmen will be given five dollars as an incentive to answer questions about their religion, culture, family, race, and worldview as part of the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, or IDEALS.
Multiple choice questions such as “In the Christian tradition, the ‘gospel’ refers to” and “In the Muslim tradition, this spiritual practice takes place from dawn until dusk during the month of Ramadan” will assess students’ knowledge of world religions, while other questions will be more personal.
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Students will be asked to describe the degree to which they identify with statements such as “I feel a sense of good will toward people of other religious and nonreligious perspectives” and “I have things in common with” people of other religions, sexual orientations and races.
Alyssa Rockenbach, an associate professor of education at N.C. State and one of the two researchers in charge of the study, said she is interested in assessing students’ abilities to communicate with and empathize with those who see the world differently than they do.
Students will take the survey again at the end of their first year and during their fourth year, so that the researchers can assess the effect of the college experience on their perceptions of those who are culturally different from them.
Rockenbach expects students’ attitudes will change over time, and she thinks the study will be able to pinpoint why and how.
“So, for instance, ‘what works’ for science majors when it comes to cultivating attitudes may be different from humanities majors,” she said.
Rockenbach and the study’s co-leader, Matt Mayhew of New York University, will periodically assess how the colleges prepare to support students who are being exposed to new cultures, some for the first time.
“For example, does the institution offer courses on religious diversity? Does the institution offer an academic minor in interfaith studies? Do faculty and staff receive training on religious diversity?” she said.
Conversations about religion have an extra dimension that conversations about race do not: the prospect of conversion, Mayhew said. “Students might be more fearful of opening the doors to conversations about religious differences” if they feel they are being proselytized to, he said.
“If we’re doing our job in college, we’re not only introducing students to new ideas but supporting them” as they work out their reactions to those ideas, said Mayhew.
The multi-million dollar study, which is a collaboration with the Chicago nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, is funded by “a non-religiously affiliated organization that supports initiatives to foster constructive dialogue across difference and has chosen to remain anonymous,” according to a press release from NCSU.
Back to class
33,000 (actually more than) students enrolled in classes at N.C. State University this fall
4,270 estimated freshman, the largest freshman class in the state, according to NCSU.
1,347 freshman plan to enroll in the College of Engineering, the most popular program among first-year students
Classes begin Wednesday. For information, go to http://packapalooza.ncsu.edu/