Deans hold first ‘Ask McDaniel Anything’ forum of the semester

Dean Towle listens to a student's question during the "Ask McDaniel Anything" forum on Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Erin Pogue / McDaniel Free Press).Dean Towle listens to a student's question during the "Ask McDaniel Anything" forum on Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Erin Pogue / McDaniel Free Press).

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, Dean of Student Affairs Liz Towle and Associate Dean of Campus and Community Engagement Josh Ambrose hosted the first “Ask McDaniel Anything” session for the semester. Also in attendance were Director of Student Engagement Amanda Gelber and Associate Director of Student Engagement Manuel Rodriguez. These sessions are open forums for students to ask questions about the College. In an email to students advertising the event, Ambrose described it as a way to have your voice be heard and to brainstorm together about solutions to better our community.”

Some of the main topics discussed were the Decker College Center renovations, sexual assault policies, and accessibility on campus.


Decker Renovations

One of the main concerns of students were the Decker College Center renovations, as visible construction has recently begun on campus.

Every few weeks, Dean Towle attends a meeting with Whiting Turner, along with Campus Safety, Conference Services, and “anybody who is operationally impacted by the renovation.” These meetings help to provide updates, keep the campus informed, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

This project will be continuing throughout the year, and into the summer.

As many students are aware, the first step was to move the Rec Lounge into Gold Room A, located next to Harlow Pool. The next steps are electrical work, the HVAC system, and other behind-the-scenes things that are important for building maintenance. After this is complete, they will begin work on the new bookstore, which will be located in the former Rec Lounge location.

The bookstore will likely be moved to this location during the spring semester, around January or February. After this, the middle section of Decker will be closed to work on the new student center in the former bookstore area. During this time, the bookstore, Pub, and staircase from this level to the lower level will be inaccessible, though the Post Office, Copy Center, and ATM will remain operational.

Another topic discussed was the funding of the renovations. Ambrose explained that this was “money that a donor expressly gave with strings attached for this project,” and that it is not “coming out of the operating budget and it is not impacting other programs on campus.” As with recent stadium renovations, donors are able to determine where money they donate goes to on campus, to highlight particular issues they would like to address. 

This particular project is part of a larger $50 million fundraiser where 40 million of that is chiefly allocated to student scholarship, faculty and staff development, travel expenses for students, so forth and so on,” Ambrose explained. “It’s not like they chose building a building over scholarship; a bigger amount of money is going toward scholarship. A donor stepped forward and said that they want to see this particular project happen.”

Accessibility 

A big question surrounding both the Decker Renovations and the College as a whole is accessibility. One specifically is the availability of the elevator in Decker during renovations. Initially, the elevator will remain untouched, though there will likely be a time during the spring where construction will prohibit students from getting very far into that area, thus it will only be available to students who require it for access. Towle clarified that this will require students to be escorted to the elevator by construction staff, but there will be signs that provide people with information about what’s happening and how to access the elevator in order to “make it as user-friendly as possible” and ensure that people are not deterred from using the building.

There is also the question of ramp construction during the renovations, as discussed in a previous commentary article. In response to this, Towle asked to be shown the specific locations after the meeting, to make sure to convey the specifics of the requests to the construction crew to ensure that accessibility is being considered. She also said that as they get to different stages of the Decker renovation project, she has already talked to people working on campus to clarify which routes people can take due to the renovations.

There will likely be a time during the spring semester when Decker will only be accessible through the Rouzer entrance, but this will be communicated to students as it happens.

Some other buildings have had issues with access, specifically mentioned was Daniel MacLea Hall, and the question was raised as to whether there were any plans for older buildings to have renovations to make them more accessible. Towle answered that “Whenever an older building is renovated, depending on the type of renovations, there can be different types of building requirements to what kind of accessibility renovations need to happen in conjunction with whatever renovations we want to do to a building, so it depends on the building and the scope of the renovations, which sort of dictate what could happen.” While it is unlikely for large renovations to happen in the future, such as installing an elevator in DMC, “students who are experiencing specific issues related to buildings and accessibility” are asked to share that information to help “guide efforts as to where we go next.”

Another question was whether there would be a gender neutral bathroom installed in Decker during the renovations. The staff asked the architect to focus on including these, and there will be some in the space across from Englar Dining Hall.

Resources

Another cause of concern for students is the amount of resources and staffing on campus, and how that has been affected by the record-sized first-year class. Some of these concerns included “staffing the library, staffing the Writing Center, staffing offices, and better internet connectivity.”

In terms of the internet, “speed has never been the issue,” but students have had issues connecting to different websites using either McDaniel ResHall Special or McDaniel Secure, or having websites load and apps never loading. While neither administrator who was present is involved in I.T., they mentioned that they have been “putting in more hotspots, recently signed an agreement with Ting about faster, high-speed, local internet on campus,” and that further questions and issues will be passed along to the I.T. department.

Another concern was the availability of spaces for students to hang out during later hours, besides their dorm rooms. With the larger first-year class, many common areas in Rouzer Hall have been converted into dorm rooms, and the library is no longer open as late, both limiting the amount of spaces students can do work late at night.

Once Pub is moved to Klitzberg Pavilion, it will be open until midnight, so Gill Center and the Fitness Center’s hours will be open later to reflect that, which will give students another location.

The new student center in Decker will ideally be open 24 hours, though the deans also asked for short term suggestions for locations that students would like to be open later in the interim period. After a brief discussion, they agreed to look into the logistics of later library hours, and having Ensor Lounge be open later as well.

Student Involvement and Transparency

Another concern raised was the range of administrators present for the meeting, as all three sessions have been run by Towle and Ambrose. It was admitted that while the two are very knowledgeable, some decisions are above their heads and they are not able to make decisions on all topics of campus life.

While both Roger Casey, the president, and Julia Jasken, the provost, have agreed to attend a session, they were unable to come to this one due to work-necessitated travel. Additional administrators will be present for the next “Ask McDaniel Anything” in November.

The deans present elaborated that while some decisions “come straight from the President’s Office,” others they are able to talk to the people involved and “can take direct action on.”

Towle said that often the steps to making things happen on campus are to work together to gather information about what students want and present the information to the provost, “and there’s very few times she’s said ‘no we can’t do that.’”

Ambrose also asked if students would be interested in access to an organizational chart “so you all know who reports to who and what the chain of command is and how it reports to the Board of Trustees,” which students were in favor of.

Another question was on the transparency of the budget, and if we would be able to access “some level of student engagement with the actual budget” such as “students being able to look at some breakdown of the budget.” The deans agreed to ask Tom Phizacklea, the vice president for administration and finance, to come talk at the forum in November or in the spring and explain the budget to students.

There was also a discussion of the best way to provide answers to all questions asked, not just to the students who asked the questions, but to all students who may be interested in the answers. Some solutions proposed were posting minutes of these forums with updated answers, a frequently asked questions page on The Arch, or a forum where students can ask questions and have them answered online. The viability of these options will be looked into.

Dining

The consideration of other dining options on campus for when the Pub and Glar are closed was also questioned by students. There will be “a redone convenience store area that will be accessible 24 hours a day by card access” at the new location of the Pub in Fall 2020. This will be a location for students to acquire food, not just snacks, at all hours of the day. 

Students also asked why we are not allowed to take leftover food outside of the dining hall, as they are concerned about food waste that could be easily prevented. The deans said that they were unsure about the reasoning behind the policy, and that they would look into a compromise that could be formed. They also reiterated that “dining services is wanting to hear suggestions from students about how things are going and take suggestions.” 

Sexual Assault Policies

There were several questions surrounding the sexual assault policies on campus.

The first question asked what the interim measures for sexual assault cases were and how they were determined. These are on a case-by-case basis, in which “the College has the ability to restrict students from locations on campus, buildings, or events.” Part of this is mandated by the Department of Education, which mandates that the College “cannot make unilateral decisions without a finding.” As such, “the College has to be careful about what sorts of access and rights [they] are taking away from that person when they haven’t been found responsible,” while also ensuring the security of students who may be affected.

Additionally, there have been some new changes in policy as dictated by new legislation in the state of Maryland, which was sent in an email earlier in the semester, was covered by The Free Press, and can be found in the Student Handbook.

Students were also concerned about the minimum consequence for sexual assault. Currently the policies state suspension or expulsion, with students wondering when suspension would be considered, and “in what context could we find a person responsible and then allow them to continue to be a student on this campus.” Towle said that “the definition of sexual assault is broad. It includes more than rape, so therefore, there is a range of behavior that falls under the heading of sexual assault, so the College has made the decision that it will include suspension or expulsion in the minimum sanctions.”

This caused students to ask if there were any guidelines given to what behaviors would be considered for suspension or expulsion, and if there were any statistics available to which decisions were more likely. The deans said that they did not have the statistics in front of them, but they would look into finding and reporting back that information.

When asked about the statistics of repeat offenders, such as people being suspended and then accused again, Towle stated that “we’ve never had an individual on this campus who has been found responsible under this policy and had another case occur.”

Additionally, Gelber stated that in some cases, “expulsion isn’t always the best method if another educational avenue can be taken. It doesn’t excuse that they did something, but there can’t just be one prescribed method if there’s other things that can be done to educate that student and help rectify that situation.”

Another question was the viability of a confidential student support group, and it was confirmed that one can be formed if there is student interest.

Students were also concerned about the training materials for students, faculty, and staff, and determining if they were up to date. All training information is given to staff and faculty during their orientation and at regular intervals, and “is all up to date and current with the College’s policy and federal standards.”

As mentioned in the article from the second “Ask McDaniel Anything” forum, the College has shifted to Step UP! training to replace the former Green Dot training. RAs, peer mentors, student leaders, and first-year students participated in that training at the beginning of the semester, and it was used as the first session of Greek 101.

Additionally, a new Title IX coordinator, Jennifer Kent, has been hired in the HR office and is planning to collaborate with campus life staff to continue these trainings and other programs.

Gelber also said that they welcome topics and input on these as they are “currently going to be conducting assessment of what [they’ve] done over the last year, especially in terms of bystander awareness.”

Wrapping up the discussion of sexual assault, Towle reminded students that her “responsibility is to enforce something that is fair and that brings about a resolution on certain issues that are in the best interest of the parties involved and the safety of the campus,” and Ambrose thanked the students for their important questions. 


There will be another “Ask McDaniel Anything” forum on Friday, Nov. 11.

Jake Fine contributed to this article.