President Edward Ayers is preparing to lead this university at a time when it's rapidly evolving. With this in mind, we urge Ayers to first address a variety of our concerns. First, students are suffering from over-programming and tremendous stress. Visits to counseling services are at an all-time high. We're tired and overworked. A combination of driven students and a surplus of opportunities has resulted in over-involvement. That's to be expected when so many of us came here with outstanding resumes and seemed determined to accomplish the same thing — if not more — in college. If we're so committed to doing well in our classes, how can we find time to evaluate and appreciate what we've learned?
Meanwhile, it's also clear that Ayers must address issues of community inclusiveness and diversity. Ayers must move to quickly adopt a set of procedures for handling diversity related incidents, as other students have proposed and he has committed to doing.
But in the long run, Ayers must lead the university's efforts to change the school's culture. Although the university may have an official policy against racist and incendiary remarks and speech, Ayers faces a thornier challenge of teaching students about ignorance and tolerance. Some of us don't realize when we say something offensive. Required courses could be used to educate the student body and faculty, but force-feeding the information could prove highly ineffective. A creative solution is necessary and plausible.
We also challenge Ayers and his administration to evaluate programs for minorities, including orientation and pre-orientation. Are they the most effective they could be? Perhaps so. Some minority students say they would transfer if it weren't for the bonds and sense of community they formed during pre-orientation. They feel overwhelmed by the white majority on this campus.
But others argue that such programs contribute to racial division because students form their strongest relationships with the people they meet during the first few days of school. In the case of pre-orientation participants, it's other minorities. Perhaps the program's concept of could be integrated more effectively during traditional orientation.
Ayers should also do more to ensure that students become an integral part of the dialogue and decision-making process when the university considers major decisions that will directly impact students. That wasn't the case when administrators and faculty hatched the unit system idea several years ago. There wasn't the kind of transparency during the process that would have allowed us to comment — a flaw for which Ayers is not responsible.
Despite a number of surveys, students also feel left out of decisions leading to the Tyler Haynes Commons renovation process, the Westhampton Deanery expansion and the Carole Weinstein International Center proposal.
Ayers is already beginning to counter this by meeting with many groups, but he must be sure to continue this dialogue for future decisions both big and small.
We applaud Ayers' efforts to meet with the community and understand what problems it faces. As we pause tomorrow to hear Ayers' plan for the future and learn more about the man himself, we hope that he realizes that the students should be this university's top priority, and that sooner or later, words and meetings must translate into action.
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