Senate Beat – Admin expresses Frustration over Student Scorn

Last week’s Senate Public was dominated by a vibrant discussion about student relations with the administration, sparked by a pointed question by Jennifer Hickman, an Area Coordinator for Residence Life. Hickman expressed concern over the long history of anti-administration sentiments that have recently manifested in the form of begrudged posts in the MC’s, anti-admin graffiti, and a reported sense among staff that “students hate us.” Senators had a variety of responses, but mainly aligned themselves with the students, citing a historic opacity and deafness on the part of the administration.

Hickman, who considers herself to be part of the administration, wondered if some of this frustration was misplaced, and asked Senate to help clarify what students meant by the term “administration.”  

In response, Head Treasurer Kiana Cunningham-Rodriguez offered the previously-coined terms “VPD team” or “Leadership Team” to distinguish between the decision-making, resource-allocating members of the administration at the very top of the hierarchy, and the administrators who might be considered staff, who interface more with the student body and have less decision making power. Cunningham-Rodriguez did note, however, that airing specific grievances directly to the administration is not very effective sometimes, especially when those grievances are met with resistance at every step.

Vice Treasurer Sean Brown alluded to similar conversations that have been circulating around Community Safety. Brown indicated his sympathy for the non-specific student sentiments, citing “a lot of show, not a lot of follow up” by the administration in general.

President Safi Zenger empathized with Hickman, remembering similarly vague statements made by students towards Senate, and offered that the vagueness likely came from a lack of clarity in communication from both Senate and administration. Zenger did express frustration on behalf of the student body, saying “Students feel unheard… It feels very much like no one cares.” Zenger even mentioned that she, as the Student Body President, faces “a lot of difficulties getting in touch with admin.” She explained that, when other students hear that the voice that is supposed to be the vehicle for their concerns is being blown off by the administration, they lose trust that they will be respected on an individual level. Zenger described a potential preliminary solution to lubricate the relationship and allow students to understand the hierarchy of the administration: a “family-tree” style graphic, published and updated by the administration, that would help students to understand who they may have grievances with.

Vice President Margot Becker defended the student statements, saying students are “rightfully angry about things that come invisibly from the top.” Becker allowed that students were mostly concerned with the VPD, although specificity was not at the top of students’ priorities, especially with the density and opacity of information that the administration rules over. Becker also noted that she does not consider Hickman “admin,” despite Hickman’s job title. Becker was dubious that any attempt to separate “VPD” and “Staff” from “Admin” in the lexicon of the entire student body would be successful.

Assistant Treasurer Wani Pandey expressed gratitude for every member of the admin who had ever attended a senate public (two were present on Friday: Jennifer Hickman and Dean of Students Tawana Parks), but pointed to a history of friction and discontent between students, Senate, and the administration. “It takes a lot for students to reach out [to the administration],” Pandey stated, explaining how the non-specificity of grievances may be a tactical move on the part of students, because members of the administration are not usually very happy to be called out by name. They also saw the similarities between Senate and the administration, stating that both bodies are bound to make mistakes and that criticisms for both bodies must be carefully considered.

Senator Ana Quintana Bernal described painful recent interactions where she felt disrespected by members of the administration. Despite holding a number of positions at Reed, Ana felt as if the administrative point of contact for the Renn Fayre Czars was dismissive of her needs, talked down to her, and acted as if she was unintelligent and did not know how to do her job. Ana felt trapped, as the exact person who was supposed to be helping students feel heard was the person who Ana had grievances with.

Tawana Parks, Dean of Students, spoke up to ask Senators whether or not they considered her part of the VPD team. To all of the Senators’ surprise, Parks claimed to be outside of the VPD team, a further example of the opacity of the administrative hierarchy.

In other news, Safi Zenger gave an update on the professor feedback site, which will be available soon. Zenger announced that a student climate assessment will also be coming out soon, and also announced the creation of two new committees: HUM 110 Committee and Commencement Committee. Zenger noted that Kiana Cunningham-Rodrigues smelled good enough to infect the microphone with her scent. She also discovered that there is no such thing as a “trustee liaison.”

Margot Becker spoke with Jenni Leatham about queer therapy and grief services. She noted that the HCC will be extending their drop-in grief counseling hours. Becker also gave updates on the library renovation: there are plans for a redesigned interior, better all-gender bathrooms, new furniture, and more hangout spaces, all to be budgeted between $15 and $20 million. Additionally, Becker discussed the rugby team, saying that the Sports Center will cover all expenses other than player-specific gear and some food unless there is a demonstrated need.

Secretary Miles Sanford noted, “I take notes, not too much.”

Senator Mack Marsaw announced a survey coming soon that will cover student grievances about the HUM 110 curriculum. They also discussed complaints that the water in the quarantine dorms was coming out brown. Marsaw noted that the HCC was “thinking about starting projects” to figure this out.

Senator Lennox Reeder announced a coming poll from the Computer Committee about computer usage that will inform how the library allocates space in the renovations.

Senator Arley Sakai announced the hiring of two Student Body Election Czars, Ashley Oliver and Tucker Twomey. Both were accepted unanimously by the senate.

Kiana Cunningham-Rodriguez discussed the lack of housing for third and fourth years, with only 200 beds available. She created two new surveys, one for student grievances and one for off-campus student support needs, which will include questions about financial aid involving off-campus housing. She announced that KRRC would be getting fully funded for their broken mixer, Fiber Arts would be fully funded, and Marine Biology would be partially funded, remarking: “So much money for fish!”

Cunningham-Rodriguez also elaborated on recent tensions with the Sports Center, saying that “the Sports Center had decided not to fund rugby or frisbee,” but with a little added pressure from Senate the two sports got their money. Being a treasurer in a pandemic is tough, according to Cunningham-Rodriguez.

Sean Brown relayed his conversations with Community Safety. He wants to make a survey about CSO-student climate, but Gary Granger opposes this. Brown wants to do it anyway, citing “chaos.” Brown also discussed the Student Opportunity Subsidy committee, saying “I feel like I’m third-wheeling on a committee I’m the chair of.” He did not elaborate.

Ana Quintana Bernal relayed a message from Residence Life, urging students to come forward with any issues involving staff. Bernal also reported on Sustainability Committee and the new Sports Center, describing how the building process will minimize emissions and add more inclusive hang-out spaces. Additionally, Bernal announced the new COVID-19 satellite testing sites, which opened late due to technical difficulties.

Senator Ena Hashimoto reported on Murals Committee: some people from the Bio Building want more murals. Reach out to Ena if you want to paint murals. She also urged students to volunteer for Renn Fayre, because the event depends on student volunteers.

For students interested in summer housing, both Kiana Cunningham-Rodriguez and Margot Becker urged students to look elsewhere. “It will be tight,” Becker admitted. Housing will be prioritized for events such as reunions and conferences, and the rest will be given to students with the greatest need, such as international students and students who will be unsafe elsewhere.

Percy Peterson, a Renn Fayre Czar, announced that the “happy hour,” a weekly office hour-esque public meeting hosted by Reen Fayre Czars, will be switching from Mondays at 7 to Fridays at 7.

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