Annual Town Hall brings pressing concerns to light
Students raised questions regarding important issues on campus such as diversity, support systems for students and the need for digitally accessible services during the annual Town Hall hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) on Wednesday, Dec. 5.
Participants had the opportunity to voice their concerns to Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz and top Hofstra administrators at the event.
Carissa Ramirez, a senior public policy and public service and political science major, coordinated and hosted the Town Hall as the rules chair of SGA.
The event began with an address from Rabinowitz acknowledging the importance of the event and addressing changes the University has made in the last year. Rabinowitz explained how the University dropped the $30 counseling service fee, which was a main topic of discussion at last year’s Town Hall. Rabinowitz also used the venue to announce the appointment of the new Dean of Students Gabrielle St. Leger. For Rabinowitz, the purpose of the event was to “try to hear [the students’] point of view and to answer questions to the best that we can.”
Online services for Title IX, the Resident Safety Program, trauma support and the method for filing complaints against faculty were also topics of discussion. The Chronicle reported earlier this semester on the new email@example.com email address created by the Office of the Provost. Not all students are happy with this email, saying it is an ineffective tool.
Jean Peden Christodoulou, associate vice president for Student Affairs, wants to work with students to change the complaint filing process. “We are trying to look at the process to see where adjustments can be made, how centralizing can help, what challenges there might be,” she said. “That is certainly an important part of what we’ll take into account as we continue to look at it.”
The Resident Safety Representatives (RSR) program was criticized by an anonymous RSR. The complaint said the program is “disorganized, inefficient and lacks accountability.”
According to the complaint, RSR’s frequently have their hours and shifts changed without much warning.
The lack of communication “has led to high turnover rate and inability to fully-staff all booths at various times during the semester,” the complaint said. “We feel like we are not heard and the job causes significant emotional trauma for some.”
The anonymous RSR suggested a digital system for scheduling that would greatly improve the program. In response, Director of Public Safety Karen O’Callaghan said that scheduling is a very complex operation and filling the 16 booths at all times is difficult, especially during holidays and breaks.
“We are taking a look at finding a way to make it easier for students to sign-up for shifts from a digital perspective,” O’Callaghan said. “It is something we are working on.”
O’Callaghan plans to reach out to Resident Safety Shift Coordinators to form a committee and address the problems mentioned.
The Title IX Office updated their “Student Policy Prohibiting Discriminatory Harassment, Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct” for the 2018-19 school year, bringing amendments to the reporting policy and extending its statute of limitation from six to 12 months.
However, according to a poll of 2,500 undergraduate students conducted by SGA during Student Appreciation Week, 86 percent of students said that Title IX needs an online filing process.
“Having an online option to start that process would be great. I wasn’t afforded that process when I was assaulted and ... it is still very traumatic,” one student said.
Also mentioned was the lack of support for male victims of trauma.
“Last year I pulled somebody from a window when they were trying to jump out and end their life because they didn’t feel they had the support necessary to get over the trauma they were experiencing,” a resident assistant (RA) in attendance said. The school never checked back to see how they were after assisting in the crisis, the RA continued on to say. “I have seen so many terrible things that nobody the age of 18 to 22 should have to,” they said. “I think there needs to be a huge revisit as to what the mission should be to help prepare these students. If we could just devote a little more time to those things, that’d be great, thanks.”
“I want to talk for a minute about the online reporting,” Christodoulou said. “We are hearing you that there is an interest in some ease of reporting, especially in traumatic situations.” Christodoulou said that conversations about online reporting are ongoing.
In regard to supporting residence life staff members, Title IX Officer for Student Issues Allison Vernace said she would be willing to work with anyone who had ideas. She suggested working with the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHACC) on a self-care clinic.
Vernace also explained that the University is taking steps to support male survivors. “It’s On Us has been doing a lot of work planning for next semester around supporting male survivors. Talking about masculinity, specifically toxic masculinity and how men can be active allies, as well as how men can create safe spaces on campus for them to talk about their own experiences,” Vernace said.
Additionally, students mentioned changing the way appointments are made at SHACC, suggesting an online option. Dr. John Guthman, the director of SHACC, said that students have been able to schedule appointments online for the medical side of SHACC, but scheduling counseling appointments is still only done by calling or walking in for confidentiality purposes.
During the Town Hall, students were also curious about what the goals of Hofstra’s new chief and diversity inclusion officer will be, as it is currently a new and unfilled position.
“[The role is] to address how we approach our diversity and inclusion efforts,” said Denise Cunningham, chief human resources officer. Cunningham said that the short term goals of the new position are to assess the University, layout a plan and “hopefully” execute that plan.
Intellectual diversity was also mentioned, specifically the intellectual diversity of speakers the University brings to campus. Students believe that Hofstra Votes brought more speakers from the left side of the political aisle than the right.
Students who wanted to bring other speakers to campus did not feel their efforts were financially supported by the University.
“We have an open process, we have a grants process. I know I’ve stopped by student tables and encouraged them to apply,” said Vice President of University Relations Melissa Connolly.
Speakers at Hofstra Votes were selected out of availability because the event was organized in two months. “We take informal [suggestions] as long as they’re not that expensive. It’s an imperfect process but we’re always trying to make it as balanced as we can,” Connolly said.
Normally held during spring semester, Ramirez and the University Senate decided to move the Town Hall event to the fall so students could check in with the University during the rest of the academic year.
“[Last year’s Town Hall] went well, but a lot of the questions were not directly answered,” Ramirez said.
For Ramirez, this year’s event was different. “There were a few times when groups of people asked follow up questions and didn’t back down when they felt administrators did not give specific enough answers,” Ramirez said. “I was very proud of the students who spoke up ... to advocate for the rest of campus. I was cheering them on from behind the podium.”