The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Mortar Board hosts first President's Forum since 2020

Graphic by Helen Mei.
Graphic by Helen Mei.

On Feb. 6, The University of Richmond’s Mortar Board hosted its first President’s Forum since 2020 to address community questions and discuss President Kevin Hallock’s goals and visions for the future. 

The Mortar Board compiled a series of questions from attendees in advance, dividing them by categories. Questions largely focused on campus accessibility, ongoing construction and efforts to create a welcoming environment for all. 

When approaching everything he does as president, Hallock employs an economist’s approach, whether it be a gender-based issue like wage gaps or his packed schedule. 

“Economists are not just focussed on maximizing profits,” Hallock said. “It’s useful in everyday life, industry and organization because it forces you to think on the margin.”

The questions, fielded by Richmond and Westhampton College Student Government Presidents Derek Gilmore and Lauren Oligino, took up the allotted hour, leaving no time for a live Q&A from the audience. 

In every question, there was one common theme: student belonging and subsequent success. 

“The word ‘belonging’ is all over the strategic plan, so I think it’s super important,” Hallock said. “We need to be relentlessly welcoming. Every single person on this campus needs to find a community, a home, a group that supports, people you can rely on when you have trouble or want to celebrate some success.” 

He pointed to the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion as evidence and a base of opportunity, inclusivity and campus programming. He also noted that UR is working to hire its first vice president of inclusion and belonging. 

Much of the current construction happening on campus, like the Boatwright Memorial Library renovation, is being done to create better student hubs and foster connection, he said. 

He also touched on the decreasing enrollment in the humanities in higher education, which has been observed in colleges and universities across the country, noting a flat enrollment rate in the Robins School of Business and Jepson School of Leadership over the last decade, but an overall decrease in the School of Arts and Sciences and slight increase in STEM concentrations. 

“You need to have people in English, creative writing, wherever,” Hallock said. “We’re so lucky to be in a place that’s going to keep all the liberal arts alive because we’re going to invest in them.”

Oligino also shared updates on the WCGA and RCSGA between questions, touching on the gendered division and efforts to unite. 

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“It’s no secret that we were having conversations this year about what it would mean to be a joint student government,” Oligino said. “It’s a long process in order to get there, and it’s something we’re leaving to our predecessors as well.”

She added that there are benefits to the division, like having a dedicated “safe space,” but also parts that do not sit well with many students, like how Richmond College has an annual award ceremony for its students of all years, but the Westhampton College’s awards are only available to graduating seniors. 

“These are tricky things to grapple with, tradition versus the evolving world,” Oligino said. “How are we best serving our students?”

Hallock said he also looks towards establishing a smoke-free policy on campus.

“We’ll be a smoke-free campus, and it’s probably not too far away,” Hallock said. “I’m not exactly sure on the details of how that’s going; I do think cigarettes are one form of addiction that the service team has resources to support people.” 

Sophomore Michelle Darfour was able to speak with Hallock after the event. 

“I asked him a question on communication with faculty when there were controversies or anything big happening on campus,” Darfour said. “There was a big disconnect between students and faculty. I feel like that could definitely impact students and how they learn.”

Hallock’s dream to expand on-campus traditions and strengthen community involvement was on display recently in the UR’s basketball game against the University of Dayton, reminding him of just how incredible UR can be when the campus comes together, he said. 

“That’s not a tradition, but I’d like to capture that spirit of the university,” Hallock said. “The pride that we have when you first come in to when you graduate from Richmond.”

Contact news editor Caitlin McCormack at caitlin.mccormack@richmond.edu  

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