Last night, The Student Government Association held its first town hall of the semester. The theme was "Barnard Speaks Out: Cultivating Better Collaboration Between Students and Administrators." The main question of the evening was "How do we best bring students and administration into dialogue with one another?" In light of the topic of the evening and the "Balancing Barnard's Budget" spread that appears in today's Columbia Spectator, SGA and Dean Hinkson will now be working together to disseminate information after every town hall to all students in order to make widely available our ongoing dialogues and progress on key issues. This is the first installment.
The evening began with an introduction by SGA President, JungHee Hyun, and a reading of the SGA mission statement by the VP Student Government, Julia Kennedy. The main question of the evening was posed to the room, and a panel of administrators responding to the question followed, with a focus on communication and transparency. Panelists included Abigail Lewis, Associate Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, who moderated; Avis Hinkson, Dean of the College; Annie Aversa, Associate Dean for Campus and Residential Life; and Joyce Lewandowski, Director of Orientation and Activities, Student Life. Individual tables then had the opportunity to intimately respond to the evening's framing question and other subquestions; afterward, each table's discussions were presented to the room as a whole. Dean Hinkson commented that she enjoyed the table format because of its conversational nature, saying "All participants are not just heard but through exchanges their points can be fully understood."
One theme to emerge from this discussion was, "How can we reach the greater Barnard and Columbia community in a tangible manner?" as Joyce Lewandowski, the acting SGA advisor, put it. "We only have access to very specific subsets of students, so we often find ourselves talking with the same constituencies about their needs and visions," she said. This sentiment was echoed by the other panelists.
The evening was productive, and more importantly, a welcome event for students calling for more transparency and candor from campus leaders. Students, through their honest and purposeful commentary, expressed how pressing it is for students to make their frustrations with campus issues heard - and to make each other aware of what's important. Comments from students on the housing crisis and on the communication gap between students and administrators touched on an important need for continued discussion on involving student voices in policy development. As SGA's mission states, students are "responsible to continue the SGA's tradition of equitable self-government" and we are so proud to report that this rang true yesterday evening. The dialogue was open, honest and frank, and it seemed that students attending felt their thoughts and concerns had been heard.
The strong showing by administrators symbolized the ideal of the Town Hall: speaking with one another, not at one another. Administrators at the event included Joanne Kwong, VP Communications and Counsel to the President; Vivian Taylor, VP Community Development; Jennifer Fondiller, Dean of Admissions; Nanette M. DiLauro, Financial Aid Director; Lisa Hollibaugh, First-Year Class Dean; Jessica Cannon, Coordinator of Health Promotion and Education for Well Woman; Frank Cirioni, Associate Director for Residential Life and Housing; and Gloria Anderson, Assistant to the Associate Dean for Student Life. The administrators on the panel and in the room were exemplary in their commitment to the 'communication and transparency' theme of the town hall. They listened intently and answered every question, staying past the event's commencement.
The Student Government Association looks forward to continuing this conversation as we work closely with Dean Hinkson on turning students' ideas from the evening into action. We recognize that much of the responsibility for change falls on us to make it happen and acknowledge that SGA could be doing a better job serving as a liaison between the administration and students. This evening could not have been possible but for your support and vocality as a student body, and we hope you will use both the SGA and the Dean's Office as resources. We appreciate your commitment to the betterment of campus life, and we will continue to dedicate ourselves to this end.
Please e-mail SGA@barnard.edu with any further suggestions (including suggestions about the format of this update or yesterday's town hall), and keep your eyes and ears peeled for a video of the Town Hall that will be upcoming within the next few weeks! If you are interested in reading more about the questions asked during the evening, please check our website where we will be posing these questions once more with a space for suggestions.
JungHee Hyun, President
Julia Kennedy, VP Student Government
Sarah Steinmann, VP Student Activities
Candace Fox, VP for Finance
Malvina Kefalas, VP Communications
Avis Hinkson, Dean of the College