E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, participated in the third #UMichChat event to discuss student life at the University on Friday afternoon.
Participants asked Harper questions using the #UMichChat hashtag on Twitter about various topics, including the rewards and the challenges of her administrative role and campus issues she considers most important. The University’s Office of Student Life manages programs and facilities related to life on the University’s campus.
When asked about the student life challenges on the agenda for the upcoming year, Harper identified several prominent University issues.
Last February, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights announced they would investigate the University for its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct. In Jan. 2014, The Michigan Daily first reported former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ permanent separation from the University for violating the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, which drew wide criticism of the University’s response policy to sexual assault on campus.
Last year, the student-led #BBUM movement attracted widespread attention on Twitter. Through tweets, students discussed challenges faced by Black students at the University. As part of the campaign, members of the Black Student Union and the administration have discussed changes to the Trotter Multicultural Center as one way to improve minority experiences on campus.
“What I think about a lot is sexual assault on campuses, diversity and inclusion,” Harper wrote. “The steady but too low numbers of students of color. Also issues of high risk drinking.”
Harper also wrote that her undergraduate education at the University and desire to share her own experience led her to her current position.
“I did my undergrad work here,” Harper wrote. “It was everything I needed, plus stuff I didn’t know I needed. I have a passion and love for young people & want them to have that kind of experience, so they can change the world.”
However, Harper also wrote that her job is not without challenges, such as considering the needs of multiple parties, especially if they are in conflict with one another. She noted the necessity finding a balance between transparency and rights to privacy, as well as individual freedoms and the interests of the community at large.
According to Harper, the balancing act is why problems in student life take a long time to get fixed, even if the administration places a priority on finding a solution for the problem.
“Big myth: If I care, a problem would be fixed NOW,” Harper wrote. “Many problems are more complicated & involve many people.”
Harper described a day at the Student Life office as a consistent exercise in prioritizing and stressed the importance of keeping the work moving.
“Every day is balancing the important with the urgent,” Harper wrote. “We have to be proactive in keeping important work moving. It doesn’t matter what the schedule is.”
Finally, Harper also listed several ways the students can get involved and have a voice at the University, such as volunteering at the Ginsberg Center and attending events through the Center for Campus Involvement.
In an e-mail to the Daily, LSA senior Katie Szymanski, a UMSocial Media intern, wrote that the staff of UMSocial, which handles the University’s social media accounts, usually does not participate through their personal accounts to let the community participate instead. However, Szymanski said she felt inclined to tweet a question during Friday’s chat.
“I felt like this topic regarding student life and campus community really spoke to what I’m going through as a senior at the University of Michigan,” Szymanski wrote. “At one point, I joked about being indecisive about graduate school and looked at Royster for her response. She responded with ‘Tweet it at me!’ It almost felt like I was talking with one of my own friends.”
The next #UMichChat will take place in February, with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Thomas Zurbuchen, professor of space science and aerospace engineering and the associate dean for entrepreneurship. The topic will focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and the state of Michigan’s future.