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Fireside chat addresses array of concerns

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 24, 2014

As her tenure comes to a close, University President Mary Sue Coleman is still looking to reach out to students.

Coleman and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, sat with about 30 students in the Pond Room of the Michigan Union Monday for their monthly fireside chat, which serves as an opportunity to hear and respond to student concerns on campus.

The pair answered questions about the Brendan Gibbons case, curriculum requirements, the Being Black at the University of Michigan campaign and the University’s participation with the civil unrest in Venezuela.

One student started the chat by asking about the University’s recent handling of the controversy surrounding former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ permanent seperation and the timeline of the response.

The Michigan Daily reported in January that Gibbons was separated from the University in December after being found responsible for a violation of the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.

Coleman said she could not discuss individual cases of student sexual misconduct, but stressed that the Athletic Department did not play a role in the process of reviewing Gibbon’s case.

“I am very comfortable with the process and what happened,” Coleman said. “We have pretty well-defined procedures that we use.”

The fireside chat quickly changed subjects as many students asked about the University’s curriculum. LSA senior Zach Klausner was one of multiple students who voiced their concern with how strict the distribution requirements are at the University.

“The only classes that I have truly had a negative experience with at the University are the classes that are the 100-level science classes, the natural science requirement,” Klausner said.

Klausner asked if there has been any dialogue about potentially changing some of the requirements of LSA students when the University receives its new president.

Coleman said there has not been any discussion surrounding the topic that she knows of, but professors design course selections with the intent of giving students the necessary knowledge to succeed in upper-level requirements.

“The curriculum decisions are really the purview of the faculty, and they decide a particular sequence of courses,” Coleman said. “Those are drawn with the idea that it is most helpful to the student to have the sequence."

“I realize that it causes some constraint,” Coleman added.

Coleman encouraged students to voice their frustration by writing to the dean of the department or school to have their issue addressed further.

One student asked how the administration is addressing the concerns of the students of the #BBUM campaign, an initiative launched by the University’s Black Student Union in November to shed light on the experiences of Black students on campus.

“I was really touched by the campaign and what students said,” Coleman said. “I don’t think anyone can read the flow of comments without being touched.”

The administration has been meeting with student groups every week to understand what is being said and asked for, Harper said.

Affordable housing, new modes of transportation and raising the critical mass of the minority student population were all issues Harper said the University is working on.

“I know the President-elect will work just as hard as we all have, and maybe bring some new ideas to the table,” Coleman said.

Harper said it is a collective effort that is going to create change on campus. Harper added that it is important for students to stand up and voice their concerns when they see something that offends them on campus.

In an interview after the fireside chat, Harper spoke about a social identity, bystander prevention workshop that was recently piloted for all incoming freshmen called “Change It Up.” The program will feature issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion.

“The idea is to get students to understand what it means to live in a diverse community,” Harper said. “And to give students the skills to say when I see something that is contrary to our values, I can change it up by intervening.”

Engineering senior Ana Sosa, who hails from Caracas, Venezuela, said the University needs to increase its awareness of current anti-government student protests in Venezuela. The violence has resulted in 13 deaths and about 150 injuries, according to a report by Reuters Monday.

Coleman encouraged Sosa to write to and meet with James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, to create a more substantial plan of action.

Harper stressed how important it is for students to raise their concerns within college’s student boards, which are designed to listen to student concerns.

“Some of my best work has been student work,” Harper said.

Religious holidays and the renovations of student resident halls were all initiated through student activism, Harper said.

Students also raised questions about study abroad programs, community college transfer student’s processes and attendance of student art performances.

“I thought they did a good job with addressing the questions that students asked,” Engineering senior Anjali Saripalli said. “I know that some questions they weren’t at liberty to disclose everything happening fully, but I think they did a good job addressing student’s interest at least.”

Coleman said the students raised questions that touched on a wide array of topics pertaining to the University.

“I like to hear what experience student’s are having because that can influence the way we do things in the future,” Coleman said.


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