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SA facilitates campus values discussion

By Anita Alem     3/17/15 4:50pm

Following the Student Association meeting last Wednesday, the SA facilitated a student forum on creating a healthy campus climate. Over 70 students were in attendance at the event, which, according to SA President Jazz Silva, was closed to higher administration to ensure students felt safe sharing their thoughts.

Silva facilitated the conversation with a series of questions, such as those concerning Rice values, avoiding bad situations and how to proceed when campus values are violated. At the start of the event, Silva said the forum was created to facilitate conversation, as opposed to a question-and-answer session or a panel. Silva said the event fostered a constructive environment and was not hosted by the SA itself. However, the event was listed on the SA meeting agenda. 

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of confusion about what this event is,” Silva said. “You should feel confident to say exactly how you feel — it’s just a very safe conversation.”

A wide variety of sources of an unhealthy campus environment was discussed, including negativity toward the administration, the alcohol policy and academic and personal stress.

Students continued to share concerns regarding the relationship between students and administration as well as campus resources, including Student Judicial Programs and the Wellbeing Center. Some believed a negative outlook toward administration’s actions fostered an unhealthy environment, but others said the administration must reach out to students constructively, as it has not done so in the past.

The SA presented the question, “To what extent should administration have a say in creating a standard of values?” Martel College President Rachel Sterling said the administration should foster a more consistent, trusting relationship with students.

“I don’t think everything needs to go to the students first,” Sterling said. “But there isn’t a regular form of feedback right now — [we] wait until there’s such a loud outcry that we need to deal with it. I’m sometimes worried about the way administration addresses situations, especially very recently. Sometimes, it feels that [administration doesn’t] trust us.”

Students suggested the formation of a feedback system with SJP through the colleges’ chief justices. However, some students said the administration’s current feedback systems were ineffective because they elicited student opinion without responding to it.

Attendees were again polarized on whether the relationship between the student body and the administration should be treated as a privilege or a right. Students disagreed on whether they had the right to protest the application of Title IX to the McMurtry College stripper incident when they had failed to provide enough feedback to the administration’s Sexual Assault-Free Working Group.

In response to the question of “In what situation is it reasonable for students to seek permission?” students raised doubts on the distinction between defining a public event versus a private one, and the necessity of permission in each case. Some feared that events such as Beer Bike could be deemed offensive and result in change or punishment if students did not seek permission for themes or float ideas.

“At what point does someone’s offense constitute or necessitate change?” Lovett College President Griffin Thomas said. “Is it when one person comes forward and we have a discussion about it?”

As the forum came to a close, students agreed that they desired transparency and consistency from administration.

Silva said the forum was successful as a platform for students to challenge each other respectfully.

“Student leaders have the responsibility of being unbiased and acting in a way that is cognizant of all spectrums of the student body,” Silva said. “This forum gave student leaders an opportunity to better understand these varying student concerns.”

Silva declined to comment on the SA’s plans to move forward with the concerns expressed at the forum.

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