I write today to address a growing concern about the level of student engagement in our community. One of Grinnell’s distinctive features is our commitment to community. We tackle problems together and benefit from the input of our diverse students. For that reason, if our community is to be successful, the individuals who are a part of it must be informed. Merely claiming to be an informed and self-governing group of students, however, is not enough. Although we pride ourselves on the idea of student involvement, the reality is disappointing.
Last semester, the College faced the reality that its current financial path is not sustainable. Along with changing the admissions policies, the College hired Title IX consultants for a long needed review of our sexual misconduct policies. These are two of the most important issues we will address during our time at Grinnell.
Changes in the College’s financial aid and admissions policies are something that we all care deeply about. Specifically, our commitment to need blind admissions has formed an immense part of our identity as a student body. At the start of last semester, the administration organized two town halls to solicit student opinion. Additionally, staff formed a website entitled “Grinnell’s Financial Future.” This website was not only an outlet for feedback, but provided essential information to understand the complexity of what we face. Unfortunately, very few students showed up to the town halls and not one student submitted a comment electronically. SGA also held an open forum, sent all-campus emails, and sat in the Grill for two hours a night for one week. Throughout the entire discussion of financial aid, the lack of student participation was astonishing. We had a say in the process. We had a say on whether or not need-blind admissions remained available to future generations of Grinnell students.
Many of us are deeply concerned about sexual misconduct on campus. Last week, the Title IX consultants were back on campus to give a second presentation of their recommendations for our sexual misconduct policy. There were posters, all-campus emails and two forums for students to give feedback. However, very few students attended. In fact, only five students showed up to last week’s forum.
It is a privilege that the administration actively solicits student opinion: they are not obligated to invite us to discussions and could stop doing so if they choose. Poor attendance to open forums does not go unnoticed by administrators, and they do not have to invite us back. Each time we don’t attend, we effectively remove ourselves from having a seat at the table.
Have we come to take our opportunities for granted? I worry that, although we claim that self-governance is our way of teaching people how to be game-changers in the greater society, a vast majority of us aren’t taking basic opportunities to educate ourselves about what’s going on right here on campus. In the real world, there are no all-campus emails. It’s much harder to become knowledgeable to the point where you can create change. I’m worried that we’ve become reactive when given the opportunity to be proactive and then complain, blaming the “Administration” for not listening to us, for not coming to us with the issues and questions laid out on a silver platter. Why should President Kington listen to our viewpoints on financial aid or sexual misconduct? We didn’t show up.
—Colleen Osborne ’13