In its messaging surrounding campus growth, Elon University has emphasized one clear, theme: Student voices have been central to creating change. But whose voices are really being accounted for?
Yes, it was the Presidential Student Leadership Advisory Council, a group of campus leaders who meet regularly with administrative staff to discuss student issues and concerns, who pushed for bean bag chairs to be brought to Moseley.
And yes, it was the students who served on the Presidential Task Force for Social Climate and Out of Class Engagement who helped draft the 42 recommendations that highlighted issues ranging from enhancing the physical campus environment to revising institutional polices and practices.
But most of the students who are a part of these conversations and committees represent the hyper involved student body. They are leaders of several organizations, they are class presidents, they are vice presidents — they can’t and don’t represent the needs of students who aren’t adjusting to the campus environment. And it’s inherently problematic to ask some of the most involved students how to better campus climate for the less-involved students.
Why do these conversations have to seem so exclusive? For the university’s stamp of student approval to be more authentic and genuine, the administration needs to move beyond leadership titles and make these conversations more accessible to the general student body.
According to Associate Professor of Communications Naeemah Clark, who co-chaired the task force, administrative staff requested, “a list of students who were involved on campus and would be able to be effective in dealing with faculty, staff as well as students,” and invited students based on that list.
All three students who served on the task force were already members of the Presidential Student Leadership Advisory Council, holding a variety of leadership titles on campus.
Similarly, the Presidential Leadership Advisory Council (PSLAC) appointed student members through organizational venues in an effort to represent a variety of students on campus. As a result, most students who serve on the council hold titles that reflect the top of their organization’s leadership hierarchy.
Open invitations for students to apply for such positions can reach a more diverse campus community — one that reflects student opinions that may not already have organizational venues to support them.
Still, the fact that the administration values student voices — to an extent where there is a stamp of student approval in almost every proposed initiative — is rare and commendable.
Considering other college presidents have dismissed student concerns, for example, Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, called on students to “grow up” after he recieved a complaint from an undergraduate who felt “victimized” following a conversation on campus about love — Elon’s efforts are much appreciated. But whose voices are really being accounted for in these discussions?
SGA has responded to this concern by scheduling an open town hall meeting on the first Thursday of every month. This initiative invites students from across campus to discuss a variety of topics in an open, safe forum.
During the first meeting Lambert spoke from 7:30 p.m. and asked or responded to questions until 8:45 p.m. He shared information about upcoming projects or asking students questions like, “If you don’t have a mentor on campus, why?”
When the questions were open to the floor after the first 30 minutes, it was mostly SGA representatives — who comprised a vast majority of the audience — asking or responding to questions. While Kyle Porro, executive president of SGA, stressed that the structure for future town hall meetings would be different, the evening still closed with a series of announcements pertaining only to SGA. Porro emphasized that the first meeting is far from a template and that SGA will continue to work on a structure that allows for more student-led discussion.
But the direction of the conversation can only change when more students attend and support these initiatives. And until the administration begins making conversations more open to all students, this seems like the most accessible forum for them — regardless of their organizational affiliation or title — to be heard.