At least 40 percent of students have already taken the National College Health Assessment of Rice University as of last Friday – almost three times as many who took the assessment the last time it was offered in 2014, according to Agnes Ho, director of Rice’s Student Wellbeing Center.

This year, the survey is administered optionally through the Survey of All Students.The Wellbeing Center had to throw out the data from 2014 due to the extremely low response rate of 13.7 percent, according to Ho. 

“That year, we did a random sample size and sent the survey to approximately 1668 students separately from the Survey of all Students,” Ho said. “The survey link was not easily accessed by students who missed the invitation email from the American College Health Association, which administers the survey.”

The NCHA assesses students’ “alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, sexual health, weight, nutrition, and exercise, mental health and personal safety and violence,” according to the website of the ACHA.

Divine Webber, a Student Association new student representative working on the project, said the committee working on the NCHA received feedback that many students have felt that the questions were triggering. 

“There’s not really a better way to collect this amount of this type of data without doing a survey like this,” Webber said. “But we don’t want it to be a burden on anyone. That would be contradictory to our goal.”

According to Ho, the NCHA committee is using an opt-out system to deal with the issue of potentially triggering questions. Although it is listed as a part of the Survey of All Students, which places a hold on course registration when not completed, the NCHA survey as well as individual questions in the survey are all optional. The survey is also completely anonymous, according to the ACHA website.

“ACHA will not administer the survey if it is mandatory,” Ho said. “We understand some of the questions in the survey may be personal. We do not require students to answer questions that make them feel uncomfortable.”

Ho said a list of on-campus and off-campus resources are presented on the first page of the survey and students who are concerned are encouraged to contact the Wellbeing and Counseling Center. 

Ho said that the Wellbeing Center hopes that the students who do respond understand the importance not only of completing the survey, but also of providing significant and valid data.

“We emphasize that when we talk to students. The survey questions are simple, easy to complete and related to students’ daily lives. It shouldn’t take a lot of time to answer the questions,” Ho said.

According to Webber, one of the goals of the survey is to determine the areas in which the Wellbeing committee is lacking.

“We want to make sure Rice students are aware of what administration offers in terms of health, both mental and physical, and see what resources can be created or implemented in order to meet a need that hasn’t been satisfied yet, if any,” Webber, a Duncan College freshman, said. “We just need to figure out where our students stand right now in terms of mental health.” 

According to Ho, who is leading the NCHA project at Rice, the survey results will address students’ complaints about the availability of health services on campus. 

“The survey results will help us identify health and wellbeing issues that we need to focus on. We believe the results will show us what health and wellbeing services students need and help us mobilize the resources to help them,” Ho said.

Webber said that she hopes the NCHA survey will improve the administration’s understanding of the health needs of Rice students by gathering information on students’ health needs in an organized way.

“We hope that we can fully gauge what needs to be done to help students succeed at Rice without their mental health as a hindrance to their goals,” Webber said. “We also hope that we can create events or start programs that can help with what the data tells us needs helping. Hopefully, it will help Rice students feel like there truly are people on campus who care about them.”

Simi Rahman, co-president of Rice Alliance for Mental Health Awareness, said the Wellbeing Office asked for their help in connecting with the student body and discussing the survey results once it is complete.

“RAMHA created a mental health survey for our first ever mental health forum two years ago, with the results published in the Thresher,” Rahman, a Wiess College senior, said. “With the NCHA project, we hope to engage the community in similar discussions once the survey is complete.”

Ho said the survey has already had an impact on students.

“Students who have been involved and informed about the survey have been made aware of the resources available for them,” Ho said. “We hope to share the survey results with the student body and generate more dialogue on health and wellbeing initiatives on campus.”

The NCHA survey opened Oct. 26 and will close Nov. 16.