Research Methods

Individual Interviews

For the individual interviews we asked students who agreed to participate to tell us about their own life experiences on a range of topics. Before the interview we reviewed what it would entail and participants signed a document acknowledging informed consent to our research. Approximately 150 interviews were conducted. It was very important to us, as with all components of our research, that a diverse range of student voices were included in the individual interviews. Individual interview participants received $35 as compensation for their time; students who completed a second or third interview received $40 as compensation.

Focus Groups

We ran focus groups to explore how groups of students think about issues relevant to our study. During these focus groups we also used a written process of informed consent. In the focus groups, we were interested in learning about general patterns of behavior and shared ideas, rather than individual experiences. These focus groups took take place mostly in Knox Hall (the sociology department), with $30 compensation and snacks provided.

Key Informant Interviews

For the key informant interviews, we asked community members (primarily administrators and student leaders) about the dimensions of student life on which they have expertise. These interviews were not about people’s personal experiences regarding sex, socializing, or sexual assault; rather, the point was to help us learn about specific elements of the social context. Students who participated in key informant interviews received $35 compensation.

Participant Observation

Our “participant observation” worked a little differently. When doing participant observation, researchers spend time in a community in order to understand and explain that community’s lived experience. SHIFT team members introduced themselves and said that they were there to do research to anyone who talked to them while they were doing fieldwork. To maintain students' anonymity, they didn't ask people to sign any documentation of informed consent. Students' names never appeared in any research notes taken, and will not appear in work that we publish. In fact, we probably didn't even know your name. We didn't want written documentation about specific people we observed during our participant observation because that would mean that our data linked particular people with specific observations. The goal of participant observation was to learn about the community, in all its diversity, rather than to learn about the lives of specific individuals.

It was very important to us that students knew that they never had to talk to any researcher--students who did not want to be observed told us and we left, no questions asked. Across all our data gathering we took care to make sure that all data were protected; they are stored on a secure drive at the Medical Center that only the research team and one system administrator can access. Our database doesn't contain the names of any students.