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Students can now build a more personal profile in OPUS
group of diverse college age students taking a selfie

Through the Student Characteristics Project, students can use Emory’s online record system to express their affiliation with various identity groups.

Just in time for the start of fall classes, Emory University students can now opt to share their pronouns, gender identity and other personal characteristics in their official online profile and faculty class rosters. Following the adoption of the Student Name and Pronoun Policy, the university is launching the Student Characteristics Project this month. The project uses the Online Pathway to University Students (OPUS) to offer students the option to self-disclose characteristics including gender identity, sexual orientation, first-generation status, military affiliation, religious/spiritual identity and ethnicity, in addition to pronouns.

A collaboration of the Office of the Provost, Campus Life, the Office of the University Registrar and Institutional Research and Decision Support (IRDS), with support from student testers, the project was initiated in response to student requests and reflects Emory’s desire to foster student flourishing through inclusivity, engagement and alignment with their needs, according to the project team.

Data and belonging

“In order for our campus community to be truly diverse, equitable and more inclusive, we must create space for all voices to be acknowledged and recognized at Emory,” says Carol E. Henderson, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officer and adviser to the president. “An important place to start is a more comprehensive consideration of who learns, lives, and contributes to the dynamic scholarly community that is Emory.”

According to Justin Shepherd, assistant vice provost for institutional research and decision support (IRDS), IRDS will use the data to look for opportunities to improve the student experience. For example, if the number of students reporting an affiliation is much higher than the number of students utilizing related services, that could indicate a need to improve outreach.

Danielle M. Bruce-Steele, director of the Office of LGBT Life in Belonging and Community Justice, notes that the availability of this data will make it easier for the organizations she leads to provide student services and grow a stronger community.

Shepherd agrees, saying, “All students have different experiences. We want to offer robust services, so they feel welcomed and supported at Emory.”

Henderson foresees a greater sense of community and belonging across Emory as a result of this project. “It will be transformative in our journey to create clearer pathways of change to better serve our students and strengthen our efforts in student flourishing and belonging. When students feel acknowledged, truly appreciated, valued and seen, they thrive. Emory will be all the better for it,” she says.

Faculty and staff resources

Besides benefitting the university at the operational level, the Student Characteristics Project creates a mindset of inclusivity.

“For students, sharing this data with the university is a step towards being recognized and respected in classroom spaces,” says Bruce-Steele.

With OPUS officially serving as the system of record for student characteristics, the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE) has prepared guidelines to help faculty and staff use the data to become stronger advocates for students.

Faculty and staff are invited to attend a Summer Teaching Intensive workshop on pronoun usage on Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 3:00-4:30 p.m.

Collecting data on student characteristics comes with a number of responsibilities in addition to training needs. Shepherd reports that strict privacy controls will protect the sensitive data, in accordance with FERPA and other regulations.

Currently, the data students enter will display only on their own self-service page (accessible through their personal Emory login) and on faculty class rosters within OPUS. Other groups may request data using the Office of the University Registrar’s standard data request form.

Student instructions

To enter their characteristics data, students will log in to OPUS and click on the Profile tile, where they’ll find a menu to guide them.

Under the Personal Details tab, students can enter their pronouns; if they find their pronouns have not been listed, students can select the Pronouns Not Listed option, which will lead them to a freeform field that they can use to enter their pronouns.

Within the Personal Details tab, students may also click the Biographic tab to enter first-generation status, with the ability to list for two parents. Students also have the opportunity to enter a military affiliation if one exists, as well as gender identity and sexual orientation. Here, as with pronouns, student can select a Not Listed option to enter responses not listed.

Other menu options include Religious/Spiritual Identity (a change from the previously listed Religious Preference), which grants students the option to enter one or more affiliations, and Ethnicity, which also offers students the opportunity to choose one or more ethnicities. Using the Background tab, students can choose more specific options. If a student chooses “Asian” as their ethnicity, for example, the Background tab provides students a list of Asian countries from which to choose.

While entering their characteristics, students can click on the blue icons that will provide more detail and explanations about the category and available options.

For questions about the Student Characteristics Project, students, faculty and staff can contact the Office of the Registrar.

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