How many people does it take to figure out how to satisfy college students at the University of Richmond? The administration says, "17." Survey says, "Thanks, but no thanks."
In case you haven't heard, the fifth section of the Strategic Plan is titled "Student Experience." Thirteen faculty members, two trustees, one undergraduate student and one law student have been putting their heads together to discuss topics ranging from school spirit to campus activities. Asking questions regarding student experience and exploring the different facets of the Richmond experience, this group has begun drafting the section that will theoretically guide our experience in the years to come.
Personally, I know a few of the people on the list and hold them in high regard, but at the end of the day I wish they could have just spent their time doing the job they were hired for. The thought is nice, but no matter how long the group members talk to each other, they will never arrive at a perfect formula for every student. There is currently a lot of energy being spent to create this proposal for improving student life, but I'm afraid it won't ever be effective. For this reason, I have a modest proposal: That the administration cut section five from the strategic plan or comprise the committee entirely of student leaders from various student organizations on campus.
This might seem a bit much, but I really see no other alternative. If the committee were honest with itself, it might realize that there was not a formula that applied to each member of the student body. Currently it seems as if the following formula is used to foster each student and expect positive results:
Take one well-qualified student + one too many student organizations + study space + psychological services + a career track + a social club + a spiritual outlet + a full stomach + unhealthy amounts of exercise - free time - cumbersome dining choices + meaningful service experience = a satisfied student.
The irony, of course, is that I fit this formula perfectly, but the problem is this: The only reason I'm still at this school is because of everything that has happened completely outside of this formula. If anything, I'm still here despite the formula and the expectant committee somewhere waiting and watching to see if it works. Someone is probably shocked when students are unhappy and wonder what they could have done differently as if it is the administration's responsibility.
We can see this reaction to student unhappiness in the game room renovation scheduled for completion within the next year. But what if no one uses the game room? I can hear the campus tour now, "And this game room is where our students have fun!" and after they have fun time, they have naptime. If students decided they really just wanted rest, we could move the Wii's and big screen TV's in the afternoon and have a checkerboard of little mats (red and blue) on the floor where students come and log their hours of "downtime" in order to fill a weekly quota so the school is certain that we are rested. Feeling satisfied?
If our school really believed in student leaders then there would be a significantly higher percentage of students on the committee. One student can't quite be expected to represent 3,000. If I had my druthers, the committee would be made up entirely of students who are committed to pushing the boundaries and limits of what most people consider the student experience.
Unfortunately, even if section five was completely drafted by students, I wouldn't put much confidence into it for this reason: Rebellion is one of the most integral parts of student experience, but can never be orchestrated from the top down. Clearly, some rebellion is illegal (see my article from last week) and could have a negative impact on a student's well-being, but most rebellion from standard behavior is safe and part of a healthy lifestyle.
Good rebellion, after all, is when students swim across the Westhampton Lake or go streaking across the campus (I'm just saying). I want to see every RC man partaking in "No Shave November" in two months and everyone wearing flannel on Flannel Fridays during the winter. Fun, in other words, is not planned or structured and the same goes for relationships, adventure and the memories we make as undergraduate students. The Strategic Plan section for student experience should have one sentence: "Encourage safe rebellion." That is what the school is afraid of, but the uncertainty is what this school needs ... not more scheduled programs.
Fellow students, do yourselves a favor and log onto the university Web site and look at the strategic plan for our Student Experience. I almost feel like it's one of those jokes that I can't understand. I mean, the concept of a Student Experience committee is pretty funny if they think they have a clue, but then I remember that this is actually the plan that they intend to use in the coming years to make students' lives happier, fuller and better. While you're looking at the Strategic Plan, go ahead and leave a comment. "Thanks, but no thanks."
I refuse to accept that the "Student Experience" section of the strategic plan does justice to our intelligence or self-determination. At some point people have to learn to create experiences on their own and school leaders can do little more than allow spontaneity.
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The lack of student involvement in this committee is more than just an oversight and speaks to the general attitude toward organizations on campus: "Want you for my statistics but would rather not hear your voice." After looking through the Strategic Plan, I figure someone must be stressing out over this whole student life conundrum and that I might as well release them of this terrible burden ... thanks guys, but I think we can handle this one on our own.
Contact staff writer Michael Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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