At a town hall meeting Tuesday, the question left on the table was how the Barnard administration can regain the trust of its students.
Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson, BC ’84, Annie Aversa, associate dean for campus and residential life, and Joyce Lewandowski, director of orientation and activities, discussed how to establish more effective channels of communication at the first Student Government Association town hall of the semester.
With many students frustrated over the summer housing shortage, Aversa said that a major difficulty she deals with is trying to please every student with the housing situation they want.
“We have to take what certain individuals want, and balance that with what the community needs. That’s a very delicate balancing act to maintain,” Aversa said. “Sometimes the community has to take precedence over the individual.”
Aversa added that students often approach her with frustrations without suggestions toward reaching a solution or compromise.
On Monday, Hinkson sent the student body an email announcing plans to revamp next year’s housing process—with a goal “to inform students as soon as possible of their housing status for the spring semester.” In the email, she invited students to email her or SGA representatives with feedback.
Hinkson said at the meeting, “I hope as we enter into dialogue we are always entering with our best foot forward, [and] a high degree of honesty and integrity is guiding our conversation and our actions.”
Leah Metcalf, BC ’14 and SGA representative for information and technology, said that students aren’t rising to the occasion to voice their opinions to the administration because they don’t feel that their opinions are welcome.
“Language in emails is crucial. Dean Hinkson said that only 10 people responded to her email. Well, there wasn’t a single question mark in that email,” Metcalf said. “Trust is really what this issue is about. It’s about simple language, looking people in the eye, and asking them for their trust.”
Besides the housing crunch, some of the biggest issues on students’ minds were the decision to close the Barnard pool, contract negotiations with Barnard workers, and an overall lack of transparency in administrative decision-making.
Some suggested that an online forum be created for students to vocalize their concerns to the administration, and that administrative emails be sent out at a regular time, so that students actually read and respond to them.
“There’s a small minority of students on campus who are voicing their opinions, and the great majority aren’t voicing theirs,” said Abigail Lewis, moderator of the panel and associate director for the Athena Center for Leadership Studies.
JungHee Hyun, BC ’13 and SGA president, said that SGA representatives are often consulted by administrators about policy changes, “but are we really representing the opinion of the entire student body? It’s a double-edged sword.”
The meeting yielded some concrete results: Afterward, Hinkson said that she had benefited from talking with students and plans to implement some of their suggestions, such as making her office hours themed around a specific topic.
Finding the right method of communication between students and administrators is the next step. “I just want the exchange to be authentic. I think in a smaller setting that opportunity is more available,” Hinkson said.