My father has always loved math because it’s simple, it’s direct and it’s truth.
That’s not always the case, though. Statistics are finagled all the time, and the student newspaper at American University, the Eagle, of which I am the student life editor, found that AU’s Jewishness was not as black and white as we might have thought.
Our captain here at New Voices, David A.M. Wilensky, told me about this Hillel survey that showed AU is 25 percent Jewish. But when one of our writers, Linda Benesch, began looking into the story, she found that the AU administration actually reported that 12 percent of the undergraduate population is Jewish.
You can read all about how that happened at the original article here. It reads, in part:
Hillel ranked AU the 12th most Jewish private college in the nation with 1,780 Jewish students representing 25 percent of the undergraduate population.
However, this ranking differs from statistics gathered from freshmen at AU.
As part of the Higher Education Research Institute Freshmen Census, AU freshman fill out a survey during one of the floor meetings held the week before classes. The Freshman Census survey includes a question about religious affiliation. On these questionnaires, only 12 percent of the respondents identified as Jewish, according to the AU Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.
This situation brings up a lot of questions. Is being Jewish a religion or a culture? Is there overlap? Why are students reluctant to disclose their religion in administration-sponsored surveys? How important is the question in these surveys and how does the wording of these questions affect the answers?
It certainly says a lot about the ongoing challenges Jews, or students of any religion, face when they go to college. Do they continue to practice their parents’ religion or do they pick a new spiritual path that more suits their needs?
Statistics can say a lot, especially when they disagree.