Open forums are an important aspect of having an open campus that encourages productive and progressive dialogue. With such a small campus, it’s obvious these forums are critical for maintaining the sense of community that Knox values in its administration and students. With this in mind, our editors discuss their opinions toward administrator-mediated forums as a means of engaging in campus-wide discussion.
Kate Mishkin, Editor-in-Chief
Knox needs forums. They’re platforms on which we can have frank and honest conversations and respectfully communicate with the administration as equals. They’re an especially good alternative to the Internet, where people sometimes making statements that are erroneous or blatantly disrespectful. Instead, students, faculty and staff come together to have mature conversations that usually find some solution or mutual understanding.
As President Teresa Amott always says, we learn from those most unlike us, but that’s nearly impossible when we’re not face to face. How can we possibly learn when we’re confined to our circles, or worse, Yik Yak? We’re at liberal arts college to learn to communicate effectively, construct an argument and to think critically. Forums are a great place to practice all three. That’s why it’s incredibly important to simply attend these forums, even if they’re led by faculty members. An effective forum isn’t led, it’s simply guided.
The problem isn’t who’s leading the forums, it’s who attends them.
I think administrator-mediated forums have a valuable place in the community, because it makes visible the people in charge of the campus. Open forums and addresses — like President Teresa Amott’s State of the College or Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich’s recent meetings in Old Main — may be contentious or sensitive, but they allow a platform for voices to be heard and more direct communication between students and administration.
My only complaint about administrator-mediated forums regards the lack of advertising or communication about the forums in general. The most heavily attended events — such as Student Senate’s Dining Services forum from last term — are communicated through the student body mainly through word-of-mouth. Beyond that, I’ve seen forums advertised through email or through TKS. Sometimes that isn’t enough to reach the entire campus, so I would suggest utilizing poster campaigns and social media (especially since the official Knox College Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts are already being marketed to the entire campus through poster campaigns) to get the word out to the campus community.
Administrator-mediated forums are important for the student body, but only if the student body knows about them in the first place.
Callie Rouse, News Editor
Administrative-mediated forums can play an important role in student-administration relationships. When miscommunication and frustration rises to its current level on our campus, direct, face-to-face communication is the best way to get grievances out in the open and hopefully be understood. These forums symbolize that the college is recognizing student grievances are valid.
However, I don’t think that the college should implement these forums only when in crisis mode. The administration a few years ago promised that we would get more regular forums, but after the immediate upset no more forums were held. Regular avenues of communication could help students feel like they are being heard. Even if they simply occur on a yearly basis, I think that letting students know the administration wants students to express their concerns will help improve relations.
I would also emphasize student participation. When the administration gives us the opportunity to speak out, we need to make the effort to attend these events and engage with them. The administration can’t see your Facebook pages; if you are concerned about an issue, make your voice heard.
Kiannah Sepeda-Miller, Associate News Editor
Forums give Knox students, faculty and administrators a chance to connect, to clarify misunderstandings and to lay the groundwork for collective action. And administrator mediated (or simply attended) forums prove to the student body that our school’s leadership is listening — by showing up to do just that.
These public exchanges work not only to address pre-existing problems but make space for simmering grievances or thorny questions before they fester and grow. The walkout that took place two years ago leaps to mind as an example of what happens when discourse breaks down, when student concerns stay bottled up for so long that they blow. I believe that event was necessary, but not inevitable. It resulted in large part from a communication breakdown, from the pressures students felt to make themselves heard.
Structured forums provide an alternate pathway. They aren’t easy. They require a willingness from all parties to open up and share. But they also represent one of the most direct, least scripted catalysts to action and, hopefully, change. When everyone shows up and brings something to the table, we move forward as a community instead of reacting as individuals.
Tawni Sasaki, Discourse Editor
Although I recognize the importance of having a figure of authority at these events, I think limiting the mediators to faculty members or administrators leaves out an important part of the Knox population. Even more, administrator-mediated forums convey that student opinions are only allowable with the permission of the mediator and may prevent important points of view from being expressed. I still believe that administrative/faculty participation is necessary to have successful dialogue, but having students at all steps in this process is an important way of maintaining communication and holding everyone accountable. Not only will students be held to the same standard as their fellow mediators, it will automatically give them a seat at the “big table” of discussion and legitimize their position on an issue.
If there’s anything that recent movements on campus have shown us, it’s that students are capable, engaged and motivated individuals. We care. Any change on campus will change how we experience our education — whether it be top-down policy or from a student movement. It doesn’t make sense to have important conversations exclusively led by those who would implement the policy and not those who would be directly affected by it. With all of this being said, I’m in favor of forums that are representative of the populations expected to attend and contribute. Just as Knox prides itself on having small class sizes and less formal relationships between professor and student, allowing all parties on campus to contribute equally to campus dialogue would help to dissolve the “us” and “them” mentality that often accompanies these situations.