Admin Violated Promises on Handbook Revisions, Students Say

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Admin Violated Promises on Handbook Revisions, Students Say

Emma Stapleton

Emma Stapleton

Emma Stapleton

By ELIZABETH SAWYER

After senior college officials announced changes to the college handbook earlier this month, several student leaders expressed disappointment that they were not involved in the process, citing earlier meetings with senior officials during which they were promised input.

Kyle Wright ’19.5 and Travis Wayne Sanderson ’19, the current and former co-chairs of Community Council, were two of four students who met with senior administrators last spring.

Wright and Sanderson co-wrote and sponsored a bill last spring that aimed to change language in the “Demonstrations and Protests” section of the handbook in order to better protect the rights of student protesters. The Student Government Association (SGA) passed their bill at the body’s April 23 meeting.

After that resolution was passed, Sanderson and Wright participated in a meeting with President Laurie L. Patton, dean of the college Katy Smith Abbott and diversity officer Miguel Fernández to discuss the bill’s suggestions. Other students at the meeting included Emily Cipriani ’19.5 and Sandra Luo ’18, then a member of Community Council.

“At the meeting the four of us had with Laurie Patton, Katy Smith Abbott and Miguel Fernandez, which lasted one night from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m., there was a spoken agreement to involve students in the process this past summer in response to the bill SGA passed last semester,” Sanderson wrote in an email to The Campus.

Wright interpreted the same commitment from the administrators at the meeting.

“Katy and I had multiple conversations that were like, ‘We’re going to look at it this summer, handbook review is performed during the summer,’” Wright said. “It was communicated very clearly that there would be further conversations specifically and explicitly involving the handbook.”

But on Sept. 13 Smith Abbott announced the completion and availability of an updated handbook for the 2017–2018 academic year that did not involve students.

“I don’t know of any student involvement, which was promised to us,” Wright said.

Cipriani and Sanderson were both on campus this past summer, but were not contacted to resume discussion.

“[President Patton] mentioned that she hoped that since Travis and I were going to be on campus for language school maybe we could continue the conversation into the summer,” Cipriani told The Campus in an email.

“This seemed genuine on her part, however nothing came of it. Neither Travis nor I were contacted, and due to time constraints and the language pledge I did not contact President Patton. Whether something would have panned out if I had I will never know, but if President Patton was willing to meet with us until close to midnight my guess is she would have made something work.”

Sanderson interpreted his exclusion as indicative of a lack of administrative interest in student’s wishes.

“Their not inviting us sent a clear signal that they were not concerned enough about students’ opinions to have students in the room,” he wrote. “If Student Government, the representatives of the school, shows overwhelming support for a bill, then there should be active effort by the administration to try to fulfill its requests.”

Sanderson cited the availability of the April SGA bill as another missed opportunity for administrators to include student voices in a policy revision over the summer.

“Even if they had not invited us, they could have utilized the protest policies bill passed by SGA to reform the section. In the bill, there were very clear requests, democratically passed by a large majority of the elected representatives of the student body, thus signaling student body support,” he wrote. “These requests included down to the word of how to revise the section, so there was no vagueness whatsoever.”

Wright was similarly frustrated.

“It’s so troubling to see that we can have a very explicit conversation where things are agreed upon ostensibly, and then people are not involved. The change doesn’t happen and there’s no communication,” he said.

“I understand that plates can get full. People have a lot that they’re dealing with in the administration, but there’s this culture of unrest that has been percolating and is aggravated by this type of behavior and performance.”

He emphasized that the relationship between the administration and student leaders needs to change.

“It seems like summer comes around and students are no longer relevant. Once we’re not longer actually there in the space, any sort of coalition that was established dissipates,” he said. “It’s something that needs to change.”

Cipriani posited that the administration’s obligations to other interests may have prevented change to the relevant policy over the summer.

“With regards to the lack of changes, when the Charles Murray protests first happened, I assumed that the largest problem was that [administrators] were out of touch with the student body,” she wrote. “After meeting with President Patton, Katy Smith Abbott and Miguel Fernandez, I have come to the realization that [administrators] understand what students want, they just have other priorities, namely alumni donations and their own personal views on free speech.”

In an email to The Campus, Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernandez wrote that he was not involved in this year’s revisions of the handbook.

“My understanding of the changes to the handbook is that it has been a reorganization and not a change… the change in structure is for clarification, separating policies from practices, etc,” he told The Campus. “This does not constitute a review or change of policies, in which we would have every intention of including students.”

When The Campus reached out to Smith Abbott for comment on whether or not students were involved in the summer changes to the handbook, this reporter was directed to another administrator.

After The Campus sent a follow-up email to Smith Abbott, asking whether another review of the handbook would take place during the coming academic year, she agreed to comment. Smith Abbott described a plan to include students in the future, citing a student handbook advisory committee the administration hopes to create.

“In the near term, my hunch is that this group would focus on the demonstrations and protests policy, as per the SGA resolution of last spring,” she wrote. “Because that resolution was reviewed by the president and SLG relatively late in the spring, it makes sense to bring students together now to further discuss this policy and to consider other areas where our policies can be clarified or enhanced.”

Smith Abbott hopes the advisory committee will have a long-term impact on the way students interact with the handbook.

“The hope is that a standing student committee would ensure regular review and feedback on all aspects of the handbook,” she wrote. “Although the comprehensive updates…will continue to occur during the summer, while most students are away, the work of an academic-year student committee would ensure that we have input from a broad range of student perspectives, and that these could be incorporated into those annual (summer) updates and edits.”

“I’ve written to Kyle Wright, student co-chair of Community Council and Jin Sohn, SGA president, to ask for their partnership in constituting this committee,” she added.When The Campus asked Wright about his potential involvement in the committee, he replied that while he appreciated the intentions behind the proposal, he was frustrated by the way the plan came about.

“I was immensely disappointed to learn, only upon reaching out to Katy myself this past Monday, that plans regarding a handbook review had materialized without input from students,” he wrote. “Entire conversations had occurred regarding the creation of a ‘handbook review committee’ supported by the SGA and Community Counsel without immediately involving SGA President Jin Sohn or myself.”

“Until [Monday] afternoon, I had received no communication from Dean Smith Abbott or other pertinent parties in respect to moving that process forward; nor, to my knowledge, were any other students contacted regarding that process,” he added.

Wright is disheartened by what he sees as continued failures in communication between administrators and students.

“This lack of clear and inclusive communication on the part of administrators continues to contribute to a campus culture in which conversations surrounding major decisions are made inaccessible to students,” he wrote.

“Nevertheless, I am glad that members of the administration have outlined a preliminary proposal to involve students in a review of handbook policy. I am very hopeful that we can continue to strengthen student and community involvement and move forward in addressing our most pressing concerns despite this snafu,” he added.

Will DiGravio contributed reporting.

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