I don’t like the arch — here’s why

The arch looking into the Main Hall Green. Photo by Yujie Shao.

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Lawrence built a new arch over the summer. Isn’t that exciting? You can look at it, you can go under it, you can… actually, that’s pretty much it. I don’t truly dislike the arch itself, of course. However, the arch represents Lawrence’s priorities. Same with the new building — by the way, did you hear that Lawrence bought a new building? They’re moving Payroll, HR, Alumni & Development as well as Communications, among other offices, to a location near the Alexander Gym, a long walk from almost any other campus building.  

Also, the only time you can see a doctor at Lawrence is between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays. Wellness Services is closed over the weekend. Half of the residence halls are inaccessible for disabled students. Students with COVID-19 are sent to quarantine in their rooms instead of being sent to off-campus quarantine locations. My transgender friends continue to be deadnamed, since Lawrence won’t update its email system which will deadname you unless you legally change your name — a financial burden Lawrence is reluctant to cover. Wages are low across the board, and Lawrence is struggling to retain students and staff. The internet access is also terrible, which is necessary for classwork; I usually have to try to connect to the Lawrence Wi-Fi 5-10 times before it connects. Lawrence could invest in addressing any of these things, some of which probably wouldn’t cost that much money. Instead, we get an arch. If Lawrence’s priorities are anything but making money and keeping up its image, it’s not doing a good job showing it.  

Contrary to what some may believe, this school functions because of its students, staff and faculty. The Cabinet is important, but not more so than the rest of us. All of us perform an important function at this institution. If students’ needs are unsupported, our academic performance will slip, which makes the school look bad — at which point they seem to care. It seems to me that Lawrence doesn’t really care until an issue affects their brand or their finances. Lawrence appears to be trying to recruit more potential future money (commonly known as first-years), but will it support those students when they come here? Signs point to no. At least they can look at the arch.  

Although Lawrence has great professors, students and staff, it seems that the institution is creating the perfect conditions for an under supported and unhappy environment. Lawrence’s student body is disproportionately queer, a subset of the larger population that has disproportionately high mental health needs (some of which Lawrence exacerbates). Yet, Lawrence has fewer than ten counselors on staff, and getting appointments booked is difficult and takes far too long. Lawrence likes to have queer students on campus to tokenize them and showcase their diversity, but at the institutional level, it refuses to provide us with the actual support we need. Because of this reality, many students turn to staff in times of need instead. Last year, I considered transferring schools, and my former Residence Hall Director, Kate Slisz, was the person I went to for support most often. They left after one year, and I encourage you to read about why in my article from Oct. 14, “Staff turnover: new Lawrence cabinet takes office-staff and students speak out about working conditions.” If and when staff leave, the support systems those staff had to provide leave with them. Poor internet access, insulting wages, inaccessible residence halls and repeat COVID-19 outbreaks certainly aren’t helping either. Maybe the students and staff who have no choice but to leave can look at the arch on the way out.  

And yes, I am aware that the arch was built using money donated by alumni. However, I can’t help but wonder why the alumni are putting their money towards building an arch instead of addressing any of these actual problems, which require money to solve. Is the institution not telling our wealthy alumni what we need? Would it make a difference if they did? As Rev. John Fease ‘70 pointed out, Lawrence relies on contributions from wealthy alumni, whose priorities may not be the same as those of the students Lawrence is supposed to be serving. The arch stands on the corner of East College Avenue and South Drew Street as an arrogant symbol of Lawrence’s backwards priorities.  

Maybe, instead of building an arch, Lawrence could have requested that its alumni chip in to fund Airbnb stays for students with COVID-19 and hired more doctors, nurses and counselors. Maybe it could have asked for money to have a better internet system or to pay for the legal name changes of students who need them. Maybe it could have updated its residence halls so that they’re all compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And honestly, maybe Lawrence should consider a more equitable pay structure between administrators, faculty, staff and students, and invest in the needs of the Lawrence community. Just some ideas.