The Knox 2018 Strategic Plan, which was discussed in detail at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, encompasses several different initiatives and ideas on campus.
In my opinion, the most important facet of the plan is encompassed in the third section: Ensure a Knox Education for Generations to Come. Under this category is the school’s plans for a phased renovation of SMC and attempt to find a vice president for student development.
It’s easy, especially with this Strategic Plan, to overlook the needs of students. Instead, there’s a heightened focus on alumni and prospective donors. The emphasis is placed on money, or filling the needs in front of the college. Sometimes, the college is so focused on raising the endowment or welcoming more students to Knox that we forget about the reasons for raising money or increasing the student body: the students.
At the forefront of a college should be its students, and everything the college does should serve its students — not its alumni, its potential donors nor its potential students. It’s great that additional investments in athletics were able to recruit one-third of the fall 2015 entering class participating in intercollegiate sports, but it’s easy to forget why that’s important. It’s important because it grants students more opportunities, and it provides a well-rounded experience for the students on campus.
That’s why the initiatives that fall under the third category are most important. It’s crucial we fill the role of Vice President for Student Development Ñ I’m frankly surprised the role has been left empty for so long. It’s wonderful that Initiatives for Knox have raised nearly $37 million to date.
Knox is undoubtedly thriving and doing good things. Let’s not forget why we’re doing them, or whom they really benefit.
I take pride in Knox’s diverse student body, but despite the numbers and students of color pictured in brochures and other promotional materials, there is room to expand on engaging diversity and making it easier for students to celebrate their differences and similarities, as well as make students of different backgrounds feel more comfortable on campus.
Programs like SPARK are so important for preparing new students for the rigor of Knox, and I’m excited to see that continue. Mandated diversity workshops are important for faculty members to better understand their students, and it can only benefit students’ classroom experiences. These changes are vital to the growth of the campus, especially since growing the campus means bringing in more students from different backgrounds.
One area to improve upon is still communications. Many of the important debriefings and forums go under the radar, especially since the main form of communication between students and administration is still email. While the college’s social media presence has improved (I’m quite fond of the Knox College Snapchat), it’s heavily promotional rather than informative. It might be worth experimenting with using social media to do both, providing the information that is usually only sent over email and making sure that more members of the community have their eyes on it.
President Amott’s public Facebook page would be a good place to accomplish this, and “reinvigorating” it, as it says in the Strategic Plan’s Progress Report, is a step in the right direction.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Knox 2018 Strategic Plan is the goal to bring the campus up to speed by renovating existing parts of campus and building new ones. The creation of the new Whitcomb Art Building, eventual renovation of SMC and plans to enhance the Green Oaks Biological Field Station to make it a “Living Building” are all important aspects of Knox’s future. These developments will certainly appeal to prospective students, as their existence can help to bring the college to the forefront of fields like art, environmental studies and the sciences.
Adding these facilities to campus will help Knox to stand out and compete with other schools and bring the school to the forefront. Spaces like the art building seem like they will help the school adapt to some of the modern needs of students, with new features like a design studio and computer lab that are not currently present in the art department’s space.
While the prospect of these changes are exciting, the college does not mention developing facilities in student residence halls in the strategic plan, with the exception of planned renovations of the Beta house. Knox is already stretched somewhat thin when it comes to housing and if more students start to come to Knox to experience our new facilities, they will be stretched further. The housing we currently have is also somewhat outdated, as many dorms do not have air conditioning and some of the showers lack privacy.
If the college truly wants to recruit students and keep them as comfortable as possible, it should consider prioritizing some renovations to student residence halls. For an article I wrote a few weeks ago, Director of Facilities Scott Maust indicated that it would be possible to build a new dorm as enrollment grows. I know that the price tag is an issue, but if the college could figure out a way to generate the funding sooner versus later I think it would be worthwhile. Housing affects every student, whereas there are many that will never use the art building or the Green Oaks facilities. I believe these renovations and additions still are crucial and important aspects of Knox’s future success and the strategic plan, but the college should not neglect making student living as modern and comfortable as possible as well.
Inclusivity is integral to Knox’s history and success. From admitting some of the first black students in Illinois, to providing women an education and making college financially feasible through a manual labor farm, Knox’s tradition of fostering a community drawn from a range of backgrounds stretches far into its past. To maintain our inclusivity, it’s crucial that we engage our diverse population and support a wide range of student needs. And to meet the coming generations of Knox students with the education they deserve, we need to become a student-ready campus.
The face of the ‘traditional’ college student is changing Ñ for the better. It includes a wider range of ethnicities, ages, nationalities, income backgrounds and educational experiences. These personal histories enrich and add new meaning to our Admission phrase: ‘You Are Knox.’ In moving forward with the 2018 Strategic Plan, the college must prepare its faculty and staff for this changing student body.
To do so, we must provide resources and funding not only for faculty training but for the offices that provide student support: the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Center for Intercultural Life and the Counseling Center, to name a few. We must continue to investigate what makes Knox accessible for low-income or first-generation college students and what helps freshmen transition successfully into their sophomore year. Most importantly, we need to listen to student feedback. At a basic level, we need to know how Knox can become a safe, supportive learning environment for all of its students, not just some. That’s square one.