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Town Hall meeting highlights student issues

By Ehlayna Napolitano (Assistant News Editor) Students expressed frustrations with various Hofstra policies, as well as with a lack of communication and ability to influence change during the Town Hall meeting held Wednesday. The meeting, which took place on March 20, 2013, allowed students to express a wide range of concerns and issues on Hofstra’s campus.

Topics covered ranged from beautification of the North side of campus to the divestment from fossil fuel corporations. Others topics included concerns over transfer credits, campus morale, outside guests at Music Fest, veteran programs to help ease transition and opening a Student Veteran Chapter, funding and the creation of an LGBTQ Services Center and campus awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. Several students also expressed frustration with the new meal plan policy and questioned why students were not consulted when the decision was made.

Students, however, felt that the discussion wouldn’t necessarily be the most effective way to deal with the issues and questions they have about the university. Jason Schafer, a Mental Health Counseling second-year graduate student, raised the question about establishing a full-time LGBTQ resource center to offer “official support”  to students struggling with the current challenges facing LGBTQ students from societal pressures and controversy. He was disappointed to hear, however, that this issue might not be addressed as fully as he had hoped.

“I still don’t feel that my question was exactly answered,” he said. “Even though the LGBTQ center was approved, there’s no funding and I don’t hear a plan to get funding for it from the administration. Dr. Berliner didn’t really tell me what they were going to do.”

He noted that while panel was still a good resource for university students, it did not fully solve all the problems with the way in which university processes work that students were concerned about.

“I think it’s effective in some ways and not in others. They are saying to the students that ‘we do welcome your input,’ but it seems like they should really try to get the student body involved in every step of decision making. The Town Hall meeting is great to raise these really important issues but I think there are a lot of decisions that the administration makes that the students get no input in whatsoever.”

Ariel Flajnik,  a senior History major who raised concerns over investment in fossil fuel companies and urged divestment, was disappointed in the way in which the issues were handled and felt that she was not treated as respectfully as she would have liked.

“I felt dismissed, a little bit,” she said. “I think it’s brilliant that this was organized—though it was organized by grad students, but I’m glad that [the administration] participated.”

She felt, however, that the meeting was not going to be very effective in the changing of problematic policies if the administration did not follow through on meetings with students and addressing their concerns with the specific goal of action in mind.

“Nothing really came of it,” she said. “I wish there would be more concrete follow up meetings would be set up. I guess that’s more on the students. I think if the administration continues meeting with students and having student input it will be effective, but again, the organizers of this were students, so it’s really on the students [and] feel that that’s too much of a burden on the students.”

However, the responses to the Town Hall meeting were mixed. Administrators, falling mostly on the positive side, expressed confidence in the system of student feedback and promised change as a result of the meeting.

President Stuart Rabinowitz stated that he felt the criticisms students offered of current programs—particularly of the issues with the meal plan and awareness of violence on campus.

“I may be biased but I think it went very well,” President Rabinowitz said. “You know if everyone stood up and said everything’s perfect, they’d either be lying or it would be quite useless.”

He also noted that the venue of the Town Hall allows him to more fully understand how students are feeling about various issues facing the university.

“I think I didn’t fully understand the depth of feeling about the food plan. [Although] I don’t know what I can do about it now that it’s in the contract,” he said. During the meeting, he apologized for not consulting the student body when the mandatory meal plan was written into the contract during negotiations with Lackmann over the summer.

Dean Warren Frisina, Dean of Honors College, expressed support for the format as well. Frisina did not participate in the discourse and simply came to listen. He has been doing so for the past eight years, and said that this Town Hall was, in his opinion, the best discussion that had occurred in the history of the Town Hall events, mostly because of the student preparation.

“I’ve been going to this thing for eight years, since it started, and this had to be the most substantive conversation we’ve had. The students who arrived had well thought out, well prepared questions,”  Frisina said. “I thought the administrators were forthright; I thought President Rabinowitz was particularly effective this time in responding directly to questions students had raised.”

Frisina also noted that the Town Hall meetings have always helped to yield at the very least dialogues among administrators and faculty about changes in policy and student concerns.

“I’m not saying that every issue that was raised will result in a resolution that the particular student is pleased with, but every issue that’s raised, I can absolutely promise this, will get addressed by administrators afterward,” he said.

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