What needs to change, part 4

Dave Broker

It’s a cold Friday night during winter term. I’m in the Viking Room, sitting at the bar, drinking a cold beer. As I look around, I realize a lot has changed over the past year or so. The big white board of drink choices has been replaced by two small black boards that are difficult to read and don’t include prices. The bar will close about 45 minutes earlier than it used to. Student managers have been replaced with an outside hire made by Bon Appétit – a nice guy, but a non-student nonetheless.
Across Lawe Street there is a brand new campus center with a new café that replaced the old Union Grill. The old, greasy options I used to enjoy are limited, replaced with a healthy selection of bagels from a brand-new bagel sandwich menu. It’s as if I suddenly wasn’t going to school in Wisconsin, but instead found myself in a hipster district of Brooklyn.
When Bon Appétit took over these institutions, many faculty members, alumni and students – including myself – feared the worst. Luckily our worst fears were never realized. Prices didn’t skyrocket, the VR didn’t close and much of campus life went on as usual.
Yet there were still noticeable changes that made me feel uncomfortable for one simple reason: this is not the school I came to as a freshman four years ago. That’s when I remembered the phrase “the Lawrence Difference.”
Remember the Lawrence Difference? The school finally dropped the campaign slogan for prospective students because it was generally seen as ineffective. Students often joked about the phrase because no one knew what the Lawrence Difference really was. Well, I now know what it is, and it’s time I explained it to you.
Over the course of this series I have stated just some of my complaints about the administrative business that takes place here with frank indifference about the lives of students and the decisions made by administrators and trustees without adequate input from the rest of the Lawrence community.
I have shared my vision of shared and transparent governance which I believe will resolve many of the problems I have seen arise during my time here. I have tried to explain why students need more power.
For those of you who think it all sounded like I was inconsiderate of my opportunities as an “upper middle class college student” – as one commenter said online – let me say this: I love my education here. I highly value our professors, their work and the time they devote to students. I deeply appreciate the close-knit community of students that is open to discussing intellectual topics both in the classroom for a lecture and at a party for a beer pong tournament. In fact, if I was a prospective high school senior visiting Lawrence today, I would still probably choose to come here.
But I don’t feel that Lawrence has changed for the better.
While sitting in the VR, I remember how we in the College Democrats revised our constitution two years ago. I reminded the group that many College Democrat organizations in the state refer to their leader as a “Chair” rather than a “President.” We stuck with the title “President.” Why? Lawrence students like to be different.
That’s why we were disappointed by so many of the changes. So what if no other bars list their prices on a giant white board? We do! So what if most other college students prefer to have a bagel rather than a Viking Melt and curly fries? We don’t! These are some of the things that attracted us to this school, and now we find them slowly fading away.
From what I understand, the university has been trying to make Lawrence more appealing to a broader audience of prospective students. That’s why we’re seeing some of these changes take place. It’s a process I call the “normalization” of our campus. But Lawrence is a place where students who like to be different come because the school is different. The students have always made it different.
That’s when it dawned on me: it’s the students who are the Lawrence Difference. We’re the ones who decided how the VR was going to be run; we’re the ones who said what the Union Grill was going to serve. Yet now we’re the ones who are seeing things change as we lower our voices to Bon Appétit, the trustees and the administration.
I say we stop this trend. We can watch Lawrence change in a way that makes it more “normal” – appealing to the sorts of students who choose St. Norbert or Ripon or a state school – or we can fight to preserve the Lawrence Difference. The only thing in our way is a system that allows the administration and Board of Trustees to make top-down decisions that neglect our input.
So to conclude this series, it is time that we, the students of Lawrence University – the Lawrence Difference itself – take on more power.