Last Friday, for the first time in my four years as a student atSt. John’s University, I went to Marillac Auditorium. It was notjust to get a glimpse of it before graduating; it was to attend the”Town Hall Meeting.”
For anyone who has been living under a rock, there’s been morethan the usual commotion on campus this week, primarily due to thescandal with the basketball players and certain comments made byUniversity President Father Donald J. Harrington. The Town HallMeeting was a forum that intended to give students a chance to askall of the questions that have been on their minds lately.
While walking to Marillac after my afternoon English class, Iwas expecting to be able to sit anywhere. Most non-sporting eventsat St. John’s aren’t known for huge turnouts so I didn’t thinkthere would be much of a crowd there. Plus, I figured, how manypeople want to spend Friday afternoon at a forum when they could begetting a head start on the long weekend?
Boy was I wrong. As I got to the auditorium doors, there was aline of people waiting to get in as Public Safety checked studentIDs and examined bags.
If you didn’t have your ID, it didn’t matter who you werebecause you weren’t getting in. With all the media that has beenroaming around campus, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was done toprevent reporters from attending the forum. After all, this was togive students a chance to ask the questions. There were so manypeople that they eventually had to stop allowing students in.
After going through the double doors, Event Staff handed outindex cards and those little pencils you get when you playminiature golf. The plan was for everyone to write down theirquestions on the index cards, which were collected by the EventStaff. The questions were then categorized by topic.
This turned out to be an effective idea. As I looked for a goodplace to sit, I saw students all throughout the auditoriumscribbling away questions that they wanted Father Harrington toanswer. And, by the amount of questions people had, it looked likeit was a good thing there was a time limit. Otherwise, we mighthave been there for the entire long weekend.
Using the index cards made the process much more organized thanit would have been had students approached a microphone to askquestions. This prevented any student from dominating themicrophone and allowed the forum to move smoothly as they went fromtopic to topic.
The forum began with opening statements from Fabrice Armand,president of Student Government, and Father Harrington. Themessages they gave of moving on is something that the SJU communityneeded to hear. During their speeches, I noticed that the audiencewas rather quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen some many studentsremain so quiet.
“The most important focus of today is where do we go from now?How do we improve now? It is sincerely not my intention not tomarginalize or invalidate the activities of the last few days, butrather it is my fervent prayer to take the baton that has beenhanded down to us and go forth in a great sense of oneness that isSt. John’s University,” Armand said. “We have been charged andcertainly must answer to the call and build a stronger St. John’sunder the leadership of Rev. Donald J. Harrington, working hand inhand with students administrators, faculty in order to fosterchange.”
This “Town Hall Meeting,” as the University called it, wassomething that the school needed to do – too bad it wasn’t heldearlier. Plenty of questions have been raised without an equalnumber of answers. It was about time that students were given thechance to ask questions to Father Harrington face-to-face.
Student leaders from campus organizations were given theopportunity to do so last Wednesday at the Organization Congress.However, the session was only open to student leaders, so a goodportion of the student body missed out on what was said.
Lately, a lot of students I talked to have complained that theynever see Harrington. I think this charge is unwarranted. I can’tbelieve that I’m the only person who sees him walking around campuson a regular basis. Either way, last Friday he gave students achance to not only see him but to hear him supply the answersthey’ve been looking for as well. I hope the students who have beencomplaining about never seeing him actually did attend. If not, itwas a wasted opportunity and they shouldn’t complain so much.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions at the beginningpertained to what has been going on with the basketball team.Father Harrington fielded questions regarding his use of the word”culture,” the general rules for when a team is gone overnight fora game and how this situation compared to what happened with thelacrosse team back in 1990 when they were charged with sexualassault. Instead of hearing this information second-hand, studentsfinally got to hear what he thinks directly from Harrington,leaving no room for confusion.
However, this was not the only focus of the forum. Students usedtheir index cards to ask about rising tuition costs and changes inliving on campus. At least people realized that the sex scandalwith the basketball players is not the only issue of concern atSJU.
I was very impressed by the students present at the forum. Afterfour years, you end up seeing the same students every time atevents such as these. But, on Friday, there was a large variety ofstudents in attendance, not of just the usual faces.
Also, it appeared that the majority of students really wanted tobe there. They weren’t there because a professor made them go. Itwas nice to see more students started taking an active role in whatgoes on at their school.
Of course, there were still a few students with the same badhabits that annoy me in class. I saw several people fall asleep andcell phones still went off every once in a while. By now, anyone ata college should realize that if you can’t stay awake, don’t bothershowing up and turn your phone off before things get underway.These are basic courtesies that will serve us long after we leavehere.
Several times, Father Harrington mentioned having forums moreoften in order to communicate better with the students. This is oneof the best ideas I have heard the administration at the Universitycome up with. Too often, questions from the student body gounanswered. It would be great to see some many students andadministrators getting together on a regular basis to discussissues within the University and to try to improve things. Havingthem once a month would certainly be enough for the SJU communityto keep the lines of communication open.
Maybe this is the first step not just to things getting back tonormal, but also to building stronger relationships betweenstudents and University administrators.