Open Forum facilitates discussion and debate

Alicia Bones

The discussion “P&H, Sidewalk Sperm, and Public Art” held Monday, May 12 in the coffeehouse was the first open forum in a long while to address issues bubbling under the surface of the relationship between students and administrators.
The forum, which lasted over two hours, sparked a discussion addressing student concerns with recent controversial issues. It also addressed more fundamental issues of student versus administration initiative in spreading information and in beginning open dialogues as well as addressing the thin line of the protecting the safety of the campus while still following privacy laws.
Administrators present at the discussion were Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell, Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Amy Uecke, Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Dean of the Faculty Nancy Wall and Assistant Dean of Students for Multicultural Affairs Erik Farley. Over thirty concerned students were also in attendance.
Part of the discussion centered on controversial campus issues in the past few years. Students posed questions about how Lawrence officials proceeded in dealing with these cases, did or did not inform the campus of the details surrounding the incidents and about the official outcomes of the proceedings.
One heated topic was the postering of the GLOW (Gay, Lesbian, Other, or Whatever) club’s house allegedly by another student group. The house was covered with posters bearing anti-gay slurs around the time Wisconites were voting on the gay marriage last fall.
Senior Carrie Prochniak said the issue was “a hate crime,” and that it was “shoved under the rug” by Lawrence officials.
Truesdell responded by saying she couldn’t say more about the postering because in this incident, like many other recent issues, there was a “judicial issue involved.” Truesdell and other officials cannot give specific details about incidents in which the police or other state officials become involved.
Truesdell also said that, “students who felt aggrieved or bothered” by this or other incidents could hold a “face-to-face, mediated” discussion, with an official present, if they wished.
Other incidents discussed were a recent covering of a poster for a speaker on Islam by a poster for a party for Israel’s 60th birthday, the P&H party postering, a student allegedly hiding other students’ beds and the theft of Sara Wexler’s public art.
Common grievances of students on these issues were the lack of information from the administration, too little information causing rumor and the need for administrators to hold open forums like this one.
In response to concerns of too little information or no information from the administration, Truesdell addressed the issues she and her colleagues have to deal with in deciding to tell and how much to tell the student body.
She first explained the concept of professional judgment. She said that the “people most affected [by issues] were filled in,” and that it is “not necessary to inform the rest of the campus.” Truesdell urged students to trust the administration to inform them of what they needed to know to protect their personal safety.
Some students responded that they didn’t trust the administration because of a lack of visibility from them, and, especially, the administration’s figurehead, Jill Beck.
Uecke responded by saying there is the “assumption [within the student body] that we’re silent because we have something to hide,” and urged them to remember they are trained to work for the students’ benefit.
Truesdell then explained why Lawrence officials often cannot inform the campus of specific details of cases based on the legal document FERPA, which protects student and former students’ records from being released in nearly any circumstance. To a crowd who knew little about FERPA, Truesdell said this is the “document you get from the registrar every year.”
Student responsibility in beginning forums such as this one versus the administration beginning the forum was heavily discussed.
Some students said the administration should continue to hold and administer open-forums for discussion similar to this one. Uecke said it is not solely the administration’s job to hold forums, but instead saying that, “as a community, let’s a have a conversation about what we can do together.”
Senior Caitlin Gallogly said that a “student-moderated or administrator moderated forum as long as there is a in constructing the forum would be lovely and appreciated.” Junior Sarah Davies agreed saying that the college needed “collaborative effort that would be constructive-college DAC [Dean’s Advisor Council in the Conservatory].”
At Monday’s forum, students had chance to voice grievances and administrators got to defend and explain themselves and their policies. Surely the forum achieved its mission in creating a much-needed dialogue between the administration and students, and, based on the comments from students and administrators alike will continue– in some form–in the future.