Giving voice to students: Student Affairs Advisory Board forms

| Senior News Editor

Chancellor Andrew Martin and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White are creating a Student Affairs Advisory Board to increase transparency and communication between Washington University administration and its student body.

The advisory committee will have fixed seats for undergraduate representatives to the Board of Trustees and members of Student Union as well as the Graduate Professional Council. Students are able to apply for the remaining 11 seats until Sept. 20.

With the creation of the advisory committee this year, the University will place the Undergraduate Council, which reported to the Office of the Provost, on a temporary hiatus.

The committee will act as a “formalized vehicle” for students to raise issues and concerns affecting them.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to further increase, I hope, the development of more open communication between students and members of the administration,” White said.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Wild believes the goal of the advisory committee is to have a space where students can discuss policy changes, provide feedback and understand the University’s reasoning behind potential policies.

“The Chancellor may want to talk about what the goals are that he has for the University that he’s going to talk about at his inauguration on October 3, and this could be a place where students could ask him questions about that and there could be discussion,” Wild said. “Really, I know that for both Lori White and Andrew Martin, they both want to make sure they understand the issues affecting students that are important to them as they’re thinking about the future of the University.”

White mentioned the University’s decision to repurpose the Gargoyle as an example of the type of issues that the Student Affairs Advisory Board would explore.

“When the decision was made to change the Gargoyle into space for the Teaching and Learning Center, the feedback we received from students was ‘Why didn’t the University consult with us about this? Why are we just now finding out about this?’ I think that would have been a wonderful opportunity, had we had this advisory board, for us to engage in conversation with students as we were contemplating making that type of decision, right?” White said. “We could have talked about the reasons we wanted to do it, learned more about the impact on students earlier [and] figured out a way to make sure that students who would be displaced by the changing of the space that we would have been able to accommodate them.”

Undergraduate representative to the Board of Trustees senior David Leon also brought up the Gargoyle when discussing the importance of the advisory board. Leon said he believes the board will help “students feel like their voices are being heard at the moment that it’s needed.”

“I think that the administration might have moved a little bit too quickly with some of the things that happened [with the Gargoyle]. Dr. White and I talked about how this would have been a cool opportunity for students to voice that concern about the Gargoyle disappearing,” Leon said. “It would have been a perfect time and easy way for the students to be in contact with the administration about some of the issues that are affecting lots of students, so I think that timeliness is very important and something that hasn’t happened with a lot of other committees. And that access is also incredibly important for this committee, for it to work a little bit better than other committees have in the past.”

Speaking to the structure of the advisory committee, White explained that the fixed seats on the committee are for students who, in their roles, have already been asked or elected to “give voice to student interests, issues and concerns.”

“We didn’t want to recreate a whole other group when we already have folks who are specifically elected or appointed for that reason,” White said. “At the same time, we wanted to make sure we had a great cross section of students, both undergraduate and graduate students, so that we could do our best to represent the diversity of voices that are on campus.”

Leon said that he thinks there will be a lot of overlapping work between his roles on the Student Affairs Advisory Board and as an undergraduate representative to the Board of Trustees.

“I’m happy about the opportunity to serve on the [advisory] board as well, just because it’ll allow me access to so many different students,” Leon said. “I know it’s important for students to talk to administration, but I think it’s also important for students to talk to Ruth [Durrell] and I so that we’re hearing those voices as well and getting that feedback and getting to really listen to a diverse group of students. I think that’s what it’ll be more about for me, and Ruth as well, kind of getting those voices in one room and getting students from all over the school, whether they’re undergraduates or graduates, to really voice what is important to them.”

White said that the creation of the new advisory board coupled with the process of searching for a new provost resulted in the decision to temporarily sunset the Undergraduate Council.

“We thought this is a good opportunity to have the Undergraduate Council be on hiatus for the year while we figure out what role this new advisory board is going to play and then what kind of board, if any, the provost might want,” White said. “The other difference is that this new advisory board will talk about issues relating to both undergraduate and graduate student life, where the undergraduate student council specifically focused on undergraduate students.”

According to Wild, the Student Affairs Advisory Committee will also have slightly more students than the Undergraduate Council, which consisted of 10 students, 10 faculty members and 10 staff members.

“This is actually in some ways a more transparent and diverse group of students in terms of representation, because you’ll actually be able to apply for seats on it,” Wild said.

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