Improving life at Lawrence

Students, staff and faculty gathered in the Warch Campus Center’s Nathan Marsh Pusey Room and Somerset Room on Thursday, April 14, for a casual event called the LU Community Conversation. For three hours, community members had the chance to discuss issues that concerned them, as well as suggestions for how to improve life at Lawrence.

This is the second event of its type. After last term’s successful conversation on diversity affairs, President Mark Burstein decided to hold another forum to address general student issues. “Last term was our very first event like this, but that one was centered on diversity,” explained Vice President for Student Affairs Nancy Truesdell, one of the staff members responsible for organizing the conversation. “We got a lot of ideas and a really positive response from the last one, so we’ve decided to expand it to more than just diversity and inclusion, and maybe continue this once per term.”

Last term’s forum centered on diversity and inclusion. It drew hundreds of students with ideas on how to improve life for minority and less privileged students. Truesdell noted, “We often have ways for people to learn about these things and make their voices heard, but this is a way to all come together, share information and bounce ideas around.” At that event, students suggested actions the Lawrence community might take to encourage inclusivity, such as gender-neutral housing and the tone in which Lawrentians discuss these issues.

Last week’s LU Community Conversation was an opportunity for faculty and staff to showcase and receive opinions on the work inspired by the previous term’s conversation. A working group of the faculty Governance Committee presented a developing draft of Lawrence’s potential new reporting system for bias-motivated incidents. “There’s a lot of controversy surrounding [bias-motivated incidents],” noted Alice G. Chapman Director of the Seeley G. Mudd Library and chair of the faculty Governance Committee Peter Gilbert. “This is about getting information into the hands of people who can help to turn these incidents into educational opportunities.”

Similarly, Lawrence alumnus and Applications Development Ben Willard ’07 unveiled a new version of the Voyager software that students can use to change how Lawrence represents their identity in official documentation: “This is about making it easier for people to choose their preferred names, genders and pronouns, and to help Lawrence use that information in a helpful and sensitive way.”

However, community members also used this event to raise awareness and gather opinions on a wider range of subjects. Director of Off-Campus Programs Laura Zuege ran a station on study abroad options in order to inform students about proposed changes to financial aid for off-campus programs. Students were invited to view floor plans for the newly renovated Colman Hall, which will house innovative new living spaces for a wide range of students. Associate Professor of German Ruth Lunt discussed options to amend the foreign language requirement to better account for the skills of international students.

“Our hope is to gather feedback on things which have been in the drafting process for a couple of months now,” noted Gilbert. “We’ve had ongoing conversations with faculty and members of the campus community, but this is a night to come together in the same space, work together on this and answer any questions people might have.”

Attendees generally considered the night to be a success. Freshman Anya Milewski, who attended the event out of curiosity, noted that she was happy to “speak to faculty about things [she] didn’t know were happening on campus, all while eating complimentary cheese.”

Organizers too saw value in the conversation. “We’re trying to raise awareness about the availability of these services, [and] show them how they can change the way they present themselves,” stressed Willard. “We also want to see what people think of the new system.” Truesdell agreed and said, “This is such an important event to have; so many different things can come out of these types of conversations.”