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Student Caucus Appeals for Inclusion in Student Life

Christian Diaz, Staff Writer

Student Caucus recently expressed disapproval of Dean of Students Deb Myers, accusing her of not adequately involving Caucus during the creation or reassessment of several significant policies this year.

Caucus members were so displeased that they voted to send Myers one of two letters listing a number of grievances. The letters were proposed and voted upon within the same meeting. The vote passed before many members had the chance to read the documents.

“The RA and RD [policy change] is something that Caucus is upset about because I didn’t share it with them,” Myers said. “I feel like I got student feedback about that. I didn’t go through Caucus to do that. In hindsight, maybe I should have.”

Technically, Caucus does not have to be consulted unless changes to policy are being considered. Residence Life policy has not changed, however policy practice has. Caucus argues that regardless of technicalities, they should be consulted whenever changes that effect student life are being developed. Some Resident Life staff feel the same.

“We weren’t asked – we were told,” said senior Laura Lilley, RD of Vining A. “There was no open discussion. It was, ‘This is the way it is.’ [After we were told] we offered suggestions and alternatives and those were dodged.”

Changes were made to the structure of Residence Life. The structure currently in place, including the area coordinators added to the system last year, was deemed problematic and generally unpopular by Caucus members. This year’s Residence

Life staffing changes, including those regarding the staff’s compensation and how many hours RAs and RDs will work on work crews, have amplified feelings of neglect.

“I get that their perception is that I haven’t gotten appropriate feedback from students,” Myers said. “They feel I should have brought more concerns to them, more ideas and more questions. I definitely hear that. I think we have some disagreements over what we should bring to Caucus, or what gathering feedback means, and I’m happy to talk about that.”

Although the changes themselves were markedly unpopular in Caucus, the main concern expressed was Student Life’s decision to not include Caucus or Residence Life staff in the creation or implementation of changes in general.

“This is a community,” said senior Lacey Cunningham, Caucus co-convener, “and when big changes that affect students are considered [and come from] Dodge house alone, there’s always going to be an outcry because students weren’t involved in the process.”

“When they are [involved in decision-making],” Cunningham continued, “students don’t have any reason to complain. It’s the same with voting. When there’s an opportunity for everyone to vote, when the decision’s been made, you can’t complain because you were a part of the process. That’s the same with students. Not everyone attends Caucus and not everyone reads The Echo but as long as there is some way for collaboration to happen then students are on board with the changes, or will at least comply with them and then we can work together to adapt to these changes and to fix them when there are problems.”

Some Caucus members have expressed anger over the administration’s handling of a recent string of faculty and staff resignations, arguing that if Caucus had been consulted much-loved community members, such as Kelly Kelbel, director of the RISE Project, wouldn’t have resigned.

“I definitely feel like I’ve heard students out,” Myers said. “I haven’t had a discussion about Kelly Kelbel at Caucus. That doesn’t really seem appropriate. I’m really sad Kelly is leaving. She’s resigned and that’s sad for all of us. But I don’t know if it’s appropriate to discuss something like that at Student Caucus because it’s a personnel issue. If Kelly wants to talk to Caucus about why she’s leaving and what she wants to do next, it’s her place to do that.”

Caucus has expressed a willingness to work with Student Life so that challenges are addressed appropriately.

“If the community doesn’t buy into [policy changes], it will be less successful,” junior Kyja Wilburn, Caucus co-convener, said. “If we believe in first-year integration [ for example] then we are going to work really hard to make it work and if we think it is terrible, people will intentionally or unintentionally sabotage it because they’re resentful of the fact that these important decisions are made without asking the people who it affects the most.”

Myers, however, contends that perhaps there is a misunderstanding as to the role of Student Caucus.

“Hopefully Student Caucus functions independently and identifies issues that they want to work on for students, whether those be issues regarding student life or academics,” Myers said.

“I think when we go through the governance structure in either changing policy, or if I’m looking at something that is going to have a broad impact on students, then I think it’s appropriate to go and either collect feedback, present some perspectives or use [Caucus] as a sounding board. I think maybe that’s where Caucus and I have had some disagreement.”

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