Something happened Tuesday that hadn’t happened to me before — Rock Jones made an appointment with me.
Well, not with me personally, but with Ohio Wesleyan’s Small Living Unit community. Jones, Student Affairs vice president Craig Ullom and Residential Life director Wendy Piper hosted an open forum to talk with SLU residents about the Student Housing Master Plan and how it will affect our homes.
He didn’t have a lot of new information for us, other than that the university has raised enough money so far to build two new SLUs (about $1.5 million). A lot is still up in the air, including what the houses themselves will look like and how many each will hold.
But what felt significant for me about Tuesday’s forum was the fact that it was an arena for students to talk directly to key decision-making administrators created by those administrators.
What I was expecting to be a fancy slideshow with some time for questions at the end turned out to be a dialogue between SLU residents and the president about what SLUs mean to us, to the university and what we want for the future. There was even a consensus that SLUs are inimitable communities that enrich their members and the campus community as a whole.
This seems rare for OWU. In my time here I’ve found administrators are happy to engage in dialogue with students, but it is usually the students who must initiate that dialogue for it to happen. When administrators make an appointment with us, it usually involves a fancy slideshow.
I’ve seen a bit change in that this year. Nancy Bihl Rutkowski, assistant director for Student Involvement, initiated a conversation between us about OWU’s over-involvement problem, and now we’re working on creating a focus group about last spring’s engagement survey. And while their answer was nothing close to what we wanted, the Board of Trustees at least acknowledged The Transcript’s demands for greater transparency.
Tuesday’s forum signified to me that OWU’s administrators are getting the message — when students are stakeholders in big university decisions, we want to be part of the conversation.
Will the Student Housing Master Plan be ideal for the SLUs? Almost certainly not. As a SLU resident and ResLife employee I know houses have been so neglected over the years that some are now borderline uninhabitable. And the university’s fundraising efforts apparently have some limitations that mean we won’t get houses comparable to what we have now. A lot of this is out of current administrators’ control, but it is still regrettable and frustrating for SLU residents past and present.
The fact that I will one day come back to visit the House of Peace and Justice, my home at OWU, and will have to go somewhere that’s not the Perkins House makes me sad. I’m sure all the other soon-to-be SLU alumni feel similarly about their own houses.
But I am glad the channels of communication between the SLU community and the administration are open so that the SLUs’ new homes will be the best they can possibly be for their future residents — and for the alumni who will inevitably come crash on the couch.