I want to start this column by talking about what everyone seems to be talking about lately: the culture of fear. It exists, and it has permeated into many facets of life at RPI. Whether or not it is warranted, it is hard to deny as I know that I and many others have felt it since my freshman year. The fear that voicing dissent or discontent too openly will result in retaliation from the school’s administration. The fear that staff will lose their jobs if they resist the direction of their higher ups. It is true that repetitive assertions do not change facts, but they do change perceptions, and perception rules in culture. I charge those of you reading this to follow the words of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt and realize that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. You have a voice; use it and do not fear. You are smart, tenacious problem solvers. Do not let fear stifle your efforts, but step boldly, for now is a time when this campus needs it most. The only way to fight a culture of fear is to eliminate fear from the realm of possibility and be brave.
I have recommended that the first step in this process is a reinvestment into good faith. A feeling of mutual trust must be rebuilt between invested stakeholders and the administration over time. In the current state of the Institute, that does not exist. Instead, students have been systematically shut out from avenues of communication they once had. Voices have become muddled, sanitized, and censored by levels of bureaucracy, and the game of telephone has run rampant through the chain of command. There is a need for all invested parties to return to the table and level as equals. The current environment is not sustainable, and has led to the underlying tensions growing for years to come to the forefront with recent events. The sudden restructuring of student life and its effects on the Union were the nucleation point that opened the eyes of many to the disease to which this was a symptom: a lack of respect for and communication with all parties involved in change.
While the larger issue at hand is a major hurdle that must be overcome, it is essential that the event that sparked the movement is not forgotten. The grievances of students against the restructuring of Student Life are not with its intent, as it will address areas that are lacking and it will add value to the portfolio as a whole. The conflict lies in the execution and the implications. A good article was written from the perspective of right of way which can be found at http://poly.news/s/mfzek/.
There was no student or staff input to a change that will directly affect all students on campus, present and future. The excavators are ripping up your flower beds and your concerns are being dismissed. The grievances of students against the Executive Director of Student Activities position are not with its existence, but with its nebulous nature and duality. From the descriptions of administrators such as Vice President of Student Life Dr. Frank E. Ross, it appears to be little more than an assistant, but in writing it reads as two additional layers between the Rensselaer Union and the Vice President. The job description reads eerily close to that of the Director of the Union, and the explanations given to students have offered little additional clarification. At the end of the day, the same volume of information must be transferred, but now it must be passed and filtered two fold.
I have seen the effects of information filters both in my professional life and my time on campus. At times they can be necessary, but in relations like that between the Union and Student Life they have led to communication breakdowns. Agendas have gone unsent, meetings not scheduled, and questions unanswered. It is essential in this critical time that a pause be taken and students be brought to the table on this change, and that discussion happens. It is essential that we preserve the traditions, history, and role of the Union on campus. It is essential that we as students shape our experience here at Rensselaer not only for ourselves, but for those to come after us. As it stands this restructure has been planned in such a way that will hinder the operations of the Union and will be a detriment to the student experience. I want to reaffirm that I will work tirelessly to ensure student voices are heard and a compromise is reached for the betterment of the student experience and the betterment of the Rensselaer community.