Lawrence University officials met with students last week in a forum to discuss recent changes that have been instituted in the senior class program.The panel present at the forum tried to set the record straight for the student body as to why the changes were made and attempted to answer questions brought by students in attendance.
The changes have caused a great deal of consternation among the student body, and administrators used the forum to address the questions that students have raised since the decision to change the events surrounding the Senior Dinner.
After seniors received a letter from the programming committee first term informing them of the changes that are to be put into effect this year, students began asking the administrators why the changes were made, particularly the closing of the Viking Room, Lawrence’s campus bar, the night of the dinner.
Many Lawrence students also questioned whether administrators had made an attempt to stop the senior streak that has usually accompanied the evening. Some students, operating under the perception that administrators had indeed tried to end senior streak, questioned how school officials could cancel an event that was in no way officially sanctioned by the school.
The panel representing the school administration was comprised of: Nancy Truesdell, Dean of Students; Jan Quinlan, Director of Alumni Relations; Andrea Powers, Associate Director of Alumni Relations; Paul Shrode, Associate Dean of Students for Activities; and Lynn Hagee, Associate Director of Food Services.
Quinlan and Powers addressed the history of the senior class program and the changes that have taken place in the recent past. Truesdell and Shrode addressed directly what school officials perceive as being the major questions students had been raising.
Quinlan explained that in the late 1980s, a survey of young alumni and students found a desire for “a better sense of the greater Lawrence community.”
Some of the changes made towards this end have become a part of life at Lawrence in the years since. Class colors, a tradition at Milwaukee-Downer College were adopted. Every year at graduation, a senior was chosen to speak, senior class officers were elected, and the senior class program was started.
According to both Quinlan and Powers, the dinner, the main event of the senior class program, was designed to be an elegant, dignified affair. The event, however, has not been completely without problems.
“It has not been without its challenges from excessive drinking,” Quinlan told the audience of about forty, predominantly seniors.
The dinner was canceled for one year in the early nineties, but was resumed after a one-year absence, because positives outweighed the negatives according to Quinlan.
The officials on the panel tried to make clear to the students in attendance that the school administration did not want to cancel the event and decided to make the changes that they did, including the closing of the Viking Room, commonly known as the VR.
Paul Shrode addressed the closing of the VR, citing troubles such as people peering through the windows of the VR during the party following the senior dinner. Shrode informed the audience that last year, students not involved with the senior class dinner and party had to be chased off the terrace behind the union, as some partygoers began disrobing as early as 10 p.m.
He also cited instances of inappropriate touching and groping that occurred during the party that figured in the decision to close the VR.
Shrode also cited concerns about putting bartenders in situations that they found uncomfortable. According to Shrode, some bartenders were uncomfortable with the amount of partying occurring and were forced into making decisions about who was too drunk to be served any more alcohol.
The members of the panel explicitly stated that it was not their intention to put an end to the senior streak. Several panelists stated that as it was never a school-sanctioned event, the school is in no position to put an end to the streak. Shrode noted, “If students want to streak, I presume they will streak. I only hope they will do so with the understanding of those consequences that may accompany such an activity, and will work to be safe and keep others safe.”
As to concerns about the canceling of the party, Quinlan told the audience, “There can still be a party, just not on the same night.”
Shrode expressed hope for an understanding of why the administration acted, and encouraged student responsibility: “If anything has come out of this, I hope it is a better understanding among seniors of the challenges and concerns faced by the institution in its role as sponsor and host of these events, and how the behavior of some within the community indeed impacts others. I would hope that the sort of maturity and adult responsibility our seniors demonstrate in their academic work, leadership roles, and normal social interaction at Lawrence would lead them to challenge those classmates who may make poor decisions and behave inappropriately. This is, I think, the fundamental nature of community and we must all take responsibility and ownership for shaping it.”
Students who have concerns regarding the changes or if they wish to discuss them further “should seek out administrators to raise them, or should bring them to the Senior Class officers and Programming Committee and Alumni Relations Office,” according to Shrode.
Powers noted also that, “The recourse I would offer to students who are upset about changes is to join the programming committee of the senior class, which is the group that determines how, when, and what kinds of events seniors have throughout the year, including senior dinner.”
Steve Tie Shue, president of the senior class, and five other students will meet with seven staff/faculty members to discuss administrative handling of issues such as altering the senior class programming. The seven will include the five members from the forum panel in addition to Scott Radtke, Assistant Director of Counseling Services, and Kathleen Murray, acting Dean of the Faculty and Dean of the Conservatory.
Tie Shue will represent the senior class officers. The five other students are Nick Heuer, Alyssa Ford, Janie Ondracek, Jacques Hacquebord, and Melisha Taylor. The senior class officers chose these students as a diverse group who all shared dissatisfaction with the way the administration handled the decision to close the VR as well as such decisions as the smoking ban and certain formal group housing decisions. One member of the group bartended during last year’s senior party at the VR and others do not drink alcohol.
When asked if he thought the decision for a group representing the administration to meet with the student committee was an improvement Tie Shue stated, “I think it’s a start. We will have the opportunity to discuss [senior dinner changes] person-to-person.” He noted that no such opportunity existed with the smoking ban and some Gormal Group Housing issues.
After the meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, the seven members of the administrative committee will make a recommendation to administrative staff regarding the feasibility of the student groups’ suggestions.