October 16, 2012

Increasing Student Input

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On Monday, Cornell Minds Matter and ALANA teamed up with BSU, CAPSU and Ordinary People to host Dining with Diverse Leaders, an event “devoted to collaboration and enacting pragmatic social change on campus.” The roughly 140 students, faculty and staff were divided among 16 tables for group discussions. Opening presentations from Ordinary People and Associate Vice Provost A.T. Miller set the context for discussions, followed by the guests at each table introducing themselves. After I mentioned that I was the student-elected trustee, the student to my left asked, “If you serve on the Board, why is there such a lack of student input?”

There is nothing like a question about why you are failing at your job to jolt you awake.

There are two campus problems underlined by his question. The first is that on many issues there could be much more student input. When I campaigned, I argued that every University committee that addresses the student experience should have students on it. We have certainly come close: The four gorge safety committees, the University Diversity Council and the RARE committee have all had student members. However, some committees have only involved students after decisions are made, and we need to keep working to ensure that student voices have a role in proactively designing student policies.The second (perhaps smaller) campus problem highlighted is the lack of information about opportunities for students to get involved. While there are often events in which students can have an important role, there will be a plethora of them next week which deserve to be highlighted. Next Wednesday, the Cornell Trustees and University Council will make their annual joint trip to Ithaca to discuss the future of Cornell. Last year, this meeting was marked with much pomp and circumstance, as our sesquicentennial celebration was officially started. This year, there will be another banquet in Barton Hall, to further memorialize the past 147 years of our history. However, the main purpose of the meetings is not to look backward. There will be a number of important issues discussed where students and student life will take the forefront.The first event is on Wednesday night, where 15 graduate and undergraduate student leaders, chosen by graduate student trustee Darrick Evensen and me, will be sharing desserts with the trustees. The event is an informal session during which students discuss whatever they like. In past meetings, trustees have expressed a desire to hear directly from students, because they provide an unfiltered view of what is happening on campus. Hopefully, these 15 students will meet that expectation, and provide entirely uncensored comments.On Thursday, the Student Life Committee will be discussing the health and well-being of students, including their safety on campus. After a string of recent bias and sexual attacks on campus, this issue is both immeasurably important and pressing. The committee will also focus on the recommendations of the RARE committee, and how changes to the Greek system have impacted student behavior.Thursday night will feature two events directly for students. First, there will be a Cornell NYC Tech event involving many Cornellians — including current students — who helped us win. Students helped design the proposal, organize support and publicize the University’s strengths. Students have continued their involvement in the project, with a few even spending this past summer in New York City working on the first steps in its development.  Afterward, there will be a Diversity Networking Reception open to students and interested trustees.Friday will feature at least four more events. First, breakfasts centered around athletics and internationalization, along with other topics, will give trustees and council members an opportunity to discuss specific aspects of student life. Concurrently, the task force on student, faculty and staff diversity will meet to review the Towards New Destinations framework and hear about the specific plans that the colleges, academic units and other administrative structures have submitted to improve composition, engagement, inclusion and achievement in terms of diversity. That afternoon the full Board will meet, followed by a TGIF reception in the Big Red Barn that is open to any graduate students who want to share a beer with the trustees.The number of Board events in which students can get involved and in which students’ issues are the primary focus has been growing for a few years, thanks to the help of many interested trustees. Of course, there is no way that every campus issue can be condensed and solved in one weekend of discussions. Yet the trustees know that the solution to every student issue — whether that is campus safety, Greek life, diversity or another — will be more effective if students are part of designing the solution.

Alex Bores is the undergraduate student-elected trustee and a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at awb78@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Alex Bores