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By Sophia Raspanti
Creating positive change starts with meaningful conversations. Dr. Ashley Gray, the Associate Director of Assessment and Strategic Initiatives, has made a career of taking student resident voices and creating meaningful, positive changes surrounding student housing and on-campus life. With a background in outdoor education, Dr. Ashley Gray has spent much of her career working with college-age students, serving as a leader and advocate of student life.
As an undergraduate, Gray played soccer at UNC Asheville. After suffering an injury, Gray became involved in campus recreation programs and pursued a masters in higher education. Gray ran an outdoor recreation program at Washington State University before continuing her career with a private organization, Outward Bound. Gray began working at NC State, where she earned her Ph.D. Gray specialized in strategic planning, data collection, and student advocacy, and began working at UNC in 2017, where she took on the role of Associate Director of Assessment and Strategic Initiatives with Carolina Housing.
"Voice Into Action is this amazing way that we can use residential voice and residential feedback to make better changes to the residential experience."Ashley Gray, Ph.D., Campus Connection Ep9
Gray serves on many leadership committees, including Student Affairs and Carolina Housing, as well as leading the department of Strategic Planning and overseeing all assessment efforts within Carolina Housing. This fall, Gray is leading the Voice Into Action initiative, a comprehensive project that takes student resident feedback and transforms these responses into lasting, positive change throughout residence halls and on-campus living spaces. Gray’s unique background in residential education and student advocacy culminate to create an initiative where student voices are not only welcomed and encouraged but play an essential role in future decision making.
The Voice Into Action Initiative
“Voice Into Action is this amazing way that we can use residential voice and residential feedback to make better changes to the residential experience.” – Ashley Gray, Ph.D.
The Voice Into Action Initiative began in 2018, with Gray noting that in a complex public university system, decision-making is often a closed-door process at many levels, including with university stakeholders and state legislature, that do not include student residents. Seeing a widespread need of student voices, the Voice Into Action initiative served as a vehicle for gathering student opinions and feedback. Each fall, student residents are provided with the Voice Into Action survey, formerly known as the Skyfactor Residence Survey, which is an entirely confidential survey in which students are asked to respond thoughtfully to a variety of questions about their residential experience. While the survey is not long, only taking about 10-15 minutes to complete, residential feedback is incorporated into the decision-making process which has effects for years to come.
"My role and my job in Voice Into Action is to make sure that we have student voice in whatever way we can, and not just one student voice from one leader or the few leaders on campus, but all students who are experiencing the residential living environment."Ashley Gray, Ph.D., Campus Connection Ep9
Gray’s goal with Voice Into Action is to gather data from not only vocal student leaders, but all student residents that wish to participate in the survey. “Universities are complex, and UNC is no different when it comes to decision making,” Gray says, which is why it is incredibly important that students respond. Gray notes that in today’s world, where students with busy schedules are constantly inundated with emails, feedback requests, and online reviews, yet another survey can feel like a big ask. However, Gray notes that student voices are essential to living out the initiative’s mission of providing safe and inclusive housing for all.
Data and feedback from the survey are analyzed soon after the results are collected. Gray explores the data looking for trends and indications made by students. The data is used to create goals to address concerns and improvements, which culminate in the Strategic Plan, which are available publicly. The strategic plans are used in discussion at high levels of the university and state legislature. Gray says that she “wants to show all of the different data points that we [the initiative] collects, and all the conversation that [that] inspires within housing leadership, within student affairs, within the university itself and policy making…” that she advocates paints a more accurate picture of student needs, wants, and concerns, and leads to increasingly informed problem solving and appropriate solutions.
"We need many voices and many perspectives to make sure that we are moving forward in the best way possible for the Carolina Community."Ashley Gray, Ph.D., Campus Connection Ep9
Since its creation in 2018, Voice Into Action has been an integral part of campus initiatives and strategic planning. Student feedback through the Voice Into Action survey has led to upgrades across campus, including the implementation of new laundry machines, expansion of food options at dining facilities, widespread network upgrades and more. Gray says these projects could not have taken place successfully without student input.
“Take 10,000 residents and figure out how they are all going to wash clothes,” Gray says, explaining that feedback from student residents is essential in finding meaningful solutions to concerns in a way that will truly benefit students. Gray wants students to know that this fall, responding to the upcoming Voice Into Action survey is incredibly important.
In Gray’s words, the more students that answer the survey, the better. “We need many voices and many perspectives to make sure that we are moving forward in the best way possible for the Carolina Community,” she says, adding that “data really helps us look through those opinions and see what has the highest likelihood of success. In other words, your voice matters.
We can’t wait to hear from you soon.