Students and new staff members will frequently ask me about surveying their students. They often seem very matter-of-fact and self assured that they’ve found an answer to one of their pressing programming issues: what to present on campus.
It makes sense at first glance. Wondering what to program on campus? Ask your students! Brilliant. And wrong.
Here’s the problem with surveying your students in order to plan your programs: They don’t know what they don’t know.
The vast majority of the students on any campus are blissfully unaware of the universe of student activities programs that are available. They don’t attend APCA and NACA conferences. They don’t read Student Activities Journal, Programming or Campus Activities magazines. They don’t even read this blog.
They essentially have no idea of what’s available in the marketplace. They don’t know what they don’t know.
Ask them what bands to book, they’ll tell you "My Morning Jacket" or "Fall Out Boy." If you ask about comedy, they’ll tell you Chris Rock or Dane Cook. Odds are, your campus can’t afford those acts. Or at least not all of them. So you haven’t gained much from your survey.
But more importantly, my original premise: They don’t know what they don’t know.
Ask your students: would you like to stick your hands in different colors of hot, molten wax? Really?
Yet we’ve all seen students at conferences line up for hours, waiting to produce their very own "Wax Hands."
Ask your students: would you like to see a ventriloquist? Really?
Many students may not even know what the word means. Yet we’ve all seen students rolling in laughter over Dan Horn, Jeff Dunham, or Taylor Mason.
I often liken entertainment surveys to asking children about dinner. If you ask the average child what he or she wants for dinner, they’ll tell you what they know: they want a Happy Meal. And if that’s what you always give them, they never learn to appreciate more exotic food like broccoli or sushi. Don’t we all know college students whose diet consists of burgers and chicken strips– because it’s the only food they learned to like?
Take your co-curricular duties to heart. Remember that you serve an important teaching function on your campus. Avoid a regular diet of "Happy Meals" for your students. Book some unusual programs, events that aren’t even on the students’ radar. Your students– and your campus– will be better for it.