Notes From the Desk: On Critique

By NIA ROBINSON

There has not been room to talk about the importance of students’ roles in this issue with administration, so I’m going to make it. For context, this will stay aligned with Thursday’s town hall, but is applicable to other situations.

First I want to thank students who share and continue to give effort that often seems unmet. I am proud of the work that gets produced. You are all valid in your frustrations and anger and most times I share it. However, I think we need to be intentional in the way we approach direct conversations with the administration.

Sometimes our questions or criticisms are presented as character attacks that are most times unnecessary. If you present a question to someone that is rooted in their character, how do you expect them to respond other than being defensive? Problems with and critiques of departments or institutions should stay there. Yes, people make up institutions and carry our department policies, but there is a better way to talk about that other than diving into character attack. While there is bravery found in asking questions and demanding answers, it is not as present in backing someone into a corner and being dissatisfied by the way they try to get themselves out. With administrators who are women specifically, I see similar threads to the way we talked about Hillary Clinton and other women in power to them. There is an inherent power dynamic present between students and administrators, but the way we call it out sometimes veers into being rooted in sexist expectations.

Secondly, students need to do their homework and understand the jobs of administrators to make arguments hold more weight. For example, I think a lot of the anger we have that is directed at President Patton may be better suited for the communications office or the board of trustees. Understanding the role of the president, I think we sometimes forget Old Chapel is filled with adults who make their own decisions concerning their jobs. So, if there is an issue with faculty, go to the person in charge of that. Further, we also cannot get mad when administrators do their jobs, especially when we don’t understand them. To qualify this, I think the communications office does its job very well, which is why students are upset.

I see some of the demands and needs for change as band-aids that replicate the same structure students go against. For example, firing Bill Burger would put someone else in his place that may replicate the same issues students see. Instead, how can departments or policies be restructured as to not produce the same results?

The students are not alone in their need for improvement. I don’t think it is the job of students to make improvements, especially since the ones who are putting in effort are at the receiving end of what needs to be changed. Some suggestions to start alleviating the process is to send out and post the list and pictures of what each administrator does — like the ones that were present at the lunch tables last spring. Also, continuously share what changes are happening, so students can inform their demands and questions.

We all need to be better listeners. We all need to improve the questions we ask. I hope my peers don’t see this me being “against them.” That is not the case. I see and feel your frustrations, but just like the administration is not perfect, our methods can be improved too.

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