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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 17, 2018   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Student participation crucial to institutional change

Over the past three years, the current student body has been on campus for a number of integral changes in administration, structure and overall strategic plan. From changes in the senior leadership team to adjustments on a smaller scale, the impact of each of these touches every member of the campus community. For students, these changes will shape their IC experience for years to come.

As the administration has begun crafting new initiatives and campaigns, such as the Imagining Ithaca strategic planning initiative, it is vital that student input not be taken lightly. The division of the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs into three distinct offices, the restructuring of summer orientation, changes in the Campus Center Dining Hall and other changes all present exciting opportunities for growth, but the huge implications for the current and future student experience indicate a need for student feedback as decisions are made. If the opportunities to provide feedback are there, students should not hesitate to take advantage of them; if those opportunities are not readily available, students should demand them.

As vice president of Campus Affairs for the Student Governance Council, I’m fortunate to be in a role where my stance on the student experience is immediately validated by a title. Campus Affairs has a wide reach and broad meaning, but fundamentally, this includes any aspect of the student experience not directly related to academics. As a member of the executive board, I’m confident in the reach and ability of the SGC to serve as an effective platform for student engagement and as a platform for students.

If interested, there are still more opportunities for students to get involved through SGC, even during this semester. The SGC specifically provides a platform for students to write bills and recommendations suggesting positive ways to influence the campus experience. These represent a direct statement to people in positions of leadership at the college. At its core, the SGC is the voice of the student body.

Even if a student is unable to be involved directly in SGC as a senator, there are still opportunities to voice feedback. Serving on all-college committees, attending open forums or even just voicing your thoughts to folks during open office hours are fantastic ways to do so that don’t involve a weekly commitment. Student feedback is fundamental to creating a valuable, engaging student experience.

However, soliciting feedback is a two-way street. Students should not exclusively be expected to seek out input on matters related to the campus experience. Administration, faculty and staff should be proactive in seeking student input on matters concerning students. If students don’t attend a focus group or an open forum, perhaps the focus should be on making the space accessible or proactively seeking student input instead of immediately labeling students as apathetic bystanders.

We are in an exciting time of change, progress and development as a college. The administration is in the midst of creating a plan for the long-term strategic plan, something that affects all of us. The value of an Ithaca College degree in some ways depends on what our college looks like in 10, 20, even 30 years. For students, it’s important to join the conversation, whatever that means to you. Whether it’s joining a student organization, engaging with other students, attending events like the All Student Gathering or voicing your feedback through SGC.

Ithaca College prides itself on a student-centered focus, but this is something that should constantly be improved and challenged. The college does better when students have a voice that is valued — and utilized — equally with that of staff, faculty and administration. It’s perhaps the only way we can construct a future where we have a school that students are proud of. Students have the opportunity to offer their input on what they want their degree to mean. The option is there. The challenge is not to be hesitant to take that opportunity.

Jenna Mortenson can be reached at jmortenson@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @jennakmortenson