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March 9, 2016

Willard Straight Hall Policy Forum Addresses Booking Complications

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The Willard Straight Hall Board of Directors held the first of three Policy Forums Wednesday to discuss the reservation process for performance spaces. Shikha Patel ’17, the Director of Policy and Regu­lations, opened the forum by explaining the purpose of the Board of Directors.

“Our mission is to allocate spaces in Willard Straight Hall in a fair and effective manner,” Patel said. “We want to encourage use of Willard Straight Hall as a place of comfort, dialogue and thinking that’s outside the classroom.”

The Board of Directors recently implemented a policy change that allows organizations to make room reservations for the new semester, instead of for the entire year, according to Patel.

Cornell Minds Matter found the change helpful because the organization was able to notify necessary contacts in advance, according to Matt Ferguson ’16, the club’s president.

“It also helps us being able to do it early, for example, a semester early, so if you had a speaker come, or a yoga instructor, you can let them know in advance,” Ferguson said.

Patel, however, said the change made it more difficult for some groups to obtain room bookings.

“One problem with opening them up early is that these spaces get filled before the new semester even starts and that makes it really difficult for people to find spaces to have any kind of programs,” Patel said. “There’s a significant number of groups who don’t know their programs ahead of time. We always get groups asking us later in the semester if there’s any space, and we have to say, ‘Sorry, there isn’t.’”

The currently policy of prioritizing events with a large number of attendees is harmful to smaller organizations, according to Sungwon Yun ’16, president of Cornell DanceSport.

“There are performance groups catered to minority groups,” he said. “It’s not necessarily fair to give priority based on headcount.”

The availability of specialized spaces such as performance rooms — which are necessary for dance group rehearsals — is also limited, Yun said.

“We only have three rooms to choose from,” he said. “To have other organizations take that space away from us is really difficult. It’s frustrating that people who don’t really need that space are being given priority.”

Ferguson noted that Willard Straight Hall’s location is an added benefit of hosting events there.

“Why we use Willard Straight Hall and not Noyes or anywhere else is because the pool we pull from is from everywhere,” Ferguson said. “It’s people from Collegetown, people from North Campus, people from West Campus … so Willard Straight is the localized, centralized place where we can hold that and where we can get the most draw.”

The Board of Directors will make its final policy decision by considering Willard Straight Hall’s mission to enrich student life, according to Patel.

“This is a student union and this building was created by Dorothy Straight for things that are outside of classes: cultural enrichments, arts, ideas,” Patel said. “These forums are so we can hear your voice, but also how we can create a reservation process for this building so that our mission can be achieved.”

The board will hold two more policy forums on March 16 and March 22, before it reconvenes to create a policy based on votes from student organizations, according to the Facebook events page.

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