College must heed student voices on community projects

The day before classes resumed, Dean of the College Chris Roellke addressed recent changes to campus dining facilities in a school-wide email. It was one of the first times the changes were explained to the entire student body. Among the changes announced was the relocation of the Kiosk to the Bridge Building. UpC would become The Kiosk Late Night.

We at The Miscellany News believe that, regardless of the pros and cons of the changes, the administration failed to adequately involve students in the decision-making process. We recognize that there is a need for more dining options at Vassar, especially those students can explore late at night, when the availability of food on campus quickly becomes very limited.

Moving UpC to a more centralilzed location on campus and extending its hours could be an important step in improving late-night options for the community. These changes are refreshing and could turn out to be largely beneficial. Nevertheless, the Administration largely failed to effectively communicate them to students. And in some cases, they acted in direct opposition to students’ wishes. We at The Miscellany News believe that there are easy ways administrators can engage students in decision-making processes that would serve only to benefit the community as a whole, in addition to fostering a more ongoing discussion concerning community projects and goals.

The changes that students had requested from the previous semester were for more late-night dining options, and more student spaces. The Administration’s actions does match those requests, an effort that ought to be recognized. Students can now go to the Kiosk every night from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and use meal swipes, dining bucks, v-cash or other money to purchase snacks and beverages. This shift in hours will better serve those who are awake past the Retreat’s 11 p.m. closetime, one of the location’s more frequently mentioned shortcomings.

The new dining options certainly have positives and negatives. One potential issue is the accessibility of the locations. The Bridge Cafe, located in the new science building offers coffee and other dining options that are more expanisve than the food options formerly offered by the Kiosk. The Bridge location is not as central physically to campus as the Kiosk was in its time. Also, the Kiosk late-night location is even farther from the dorms than the UpC Cafe had been. A new common space has been introduced to Main in the location of the old bookstore. As of now it is unclear whether or not students will actually remain interested in using the space, but it nonetheless represents how the Administration sought to meet student needs. However, the more important issue that we at The Miscellany News have with the changes relates not specifically the changes themselves, but rather the way the Administration has arrived at them.

The way that the Administration sought student input on these changes was through presence in VSA town hall meetings, which were open to the whole student body. However, these styles of meeting are poorly attended and not at all well-advertised. Additionally, although concerns were voiced by students who did attend this meeting regarding the changes to campus dining locations, they did not lead to any concrete changes about the plans to alter dining options on campus.

For the average student, a panel at an open VSA meeting can be hard to commit to because of busy schedules and schoolwork. Vassar College should be looking for optimal ways to get students’ opinions, other than vague emails and meeting times that are hard for students to attend. The best form of communication is one that is convenient and accessible to students and administrators alike. We at The Miscellany News believe that online surveys could be a good solution to help students engage with administration and reach solutions that both parties both agree to and are aware of.

The College has used surveys to successfully gauge students’ opinions on a wide variety of issues in the recent past. In April of last year, 1,171 out of 2,542 students responded to a Campus Climate survey regarding sexual assault and misconduct. Recently, 96 percent of sophomores asked responded to an emailed CDO survey about the Sophomore Career Connections program. These results show that the administration is capable of organizing a campus-wide survey and that students are willing to participate, especially if they are personally invested in the topic of the survey. The College even has an office dedicated to institutional research. Yet somehow, administrators appear to be missing a crucial yet simple means of communicating with the student body.

Gathering this kind of empirical data engages a higher percentage of the student body than its alternatives (meetings, forums), and holds the Administration accountable to its students. The decision to relocate the Kiosk from Main to the Bridge Building was largely opposed by students in the VSA and on the Food Committee. Without concrete numbers that a survey can present, however, students have little opportunity to hold administrators accountable to their expressed interests. It is much harder to thwart a consensus when there is an irrefutable majority. Empirical surveys could bolster this majority.

Administrators need to foster an ongoing dialogue with students before making decisions that affect their daily life on campus. If students had a solid majority on an issue, they could have much more leverage in the decision-making process. Part of this dialogue should include some aggregate data on student opinion. When administrators appear at VSA meetings with proposals, they face little scrutiny from the greater student body. Gathering students’ opinions en masse can be useful in negotiations with administrators and can also engage the great numbers of students who are less connected to VSA-related happenings on campus.

However, the ultimate success of these kinds of surveys hinges on meaningful student participation. The student body must be ready and enthusiastic to communicate with administrators about changes on campus, rather than simply complain about them after the fact. Students should take personal responsibility regarding their feelings about their surroundings and their community, but they must also have an effective feedback system in which to share these opinions with the College and its decision-makers.

Although some students might miss grabbing coffee on their way through Main, many others will head just a little out of their way to the Bridge Building for their caffeine-fix. But well after this adjustment takes place, we at The Miscellany News encourage students and administrators alike to communicate more democratically on issues that affect student life, and to work together to improve our shared quality of life at Vassar.

—The staff editorial represents at least 2/3 opinions of the editorial board of the Miscellany News.

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