As we walked out of the first Ask McDaniel Anything (AMA) meeting of the semester, with McDaniel College President Roger Casey in attendance, we felt the same emotions we faced when we walked in: a mix of apathy, frustration, and hope.
Going into this meeting, we were apprehensive. It is exciting to have an opportunity where students can be heard, directly, by administrators, but it’s frustrating going to those meetings, representing student’s interests, and then facing results that most students would not describe as adequate.
Our requests are not outrageous or outlandish, and all fall under the goal of improving the quality of life of students on campus.
At the AMA, members of the Student Government Association and Progressive Student Union brought up some of the issues that students had been facing, based on numerous and varied discussions our members have had with other students.
These issues included: Wellness Center visit limits, class sizes and retention rates, financial aid, lack of a campus sense of community, lack of administrative transparency, library hour extensions, lack in professors and staff of color, lack of diversity in Wellness Center counselors, student representation at Board meetings, and the China exchange program.
In the past, we have had meetings with President Casey and other administrators where we have left feeling similar frustrations as we did at the AMA. There is a general trend in the ways that Casey engages with students; he responds to student concerns by talking about statistics and data points that can be viewed as positives.
However, during these meetings, it often feels that President Casey’s responses are ingenuous and condescending, and although we leave feeling heard, we rarely feel listened to.
It often feels as if Casey is out of touch when it comes to the issues that students are facing. For example, during the meeting, we addressed the overcrowding of first-year dorms due to our proudly touted “largest incoming class ever!” We discussed the lack of lounge spaces for first-years, and that they are facing issues finding public spaces to study or even spend time in. It is difficult to live in a cramped dorm room with two other students, and it is even more difficult to do so when students are trying to do work and cannot focus.
President Casey mentioned that no students are in “forced” triples, however, students did get financial compensation if they agreed to take a triple room. The truth and frustration in this response lies in the monetary area: at an institution where tuition and fees total up to $60,000, it is clear why students would seem so “eager” to sign up for a triple room: we need to save every penny we can in order to simply attend this institution.
Casey was confident in his assertion that no students are in forced triples, but his attitude and lack of understanding of students and their needs come into play when he addresses students who are concerned about their housing situation with the response that they made the choice to live there. As tuition rises, and our plans to take in larger classes continue on their current trajectory, it seems obvious that students will try to save money while making quality of life sacrifices so they can attend the school.
Further exemplifying Casey’s lack of understanding come his questions that almost any student would be able to answer, such as “Is the computer lab crowded?” during the continued conversation about lack of public spaces and limited library hours. The computer lab is filled, nearly to capacity, every night, as it serves as one of the only public locations on campus that is open 24/7, as well as a location that provides technology and resources to students 24/7.
Casey responded to our frustrations about library hours by saying that they opened Ensor Lounge for two more hours at night. Marnice Briscoe, SGA secretary, responded by saying that students did not ask for Ensor Lounge to be opened later, we asked for the library.
Casey raised his voice in response, “You did ask for Ensor.” We did not. The hours for Ensor Lounge were extended as a concession the administration made, after we asked for the library. We do acknowledge that they have extended the hours in the Merritt computer lab. Again, that is not the library.
Casey said numerous times that there were no negative impacts of the increased first-year class size on retention this year, and that we were following the trajectory for the normal retention rate. One of the statistics that the administration uses to track student dropout rates are the midterm grades of students: if they are getting good grades by midterms, they’re likely to stay.
As our incoming classes become more and more competitive, it makes sense that midterm grades will naturally rise.
However, using a statistic like midterm grades for retention rates demonstrates an administrative disregard for students’ quality of life. Most of the students that I know who have dropped out or talked about leaving McDaniel have not done so due to their grades. In fact, their grades are rarely discussed. To imply that everything for students must be alright, because midterm grades were alright, is condescending and rude.
Students are also still facing issues with the dining hall from improperly prepared food, to unclean dishes, to a lack of options for those with dietary restrictions. Students are looking for more financial literacy resources in the Financial Aid office (though we acknowledge that the office is going through a restructuring process, and that things are looking better).
Students are looking for public spaces they can work in, at hours that reflect the realities of the schedules of college students. Students are looking for a sense of community. Students are looking for professors that share a common background and identity with them. Students are looking for administrative transparency.
These issues are not new, and we will continue to represent all students in addressing them and fighting for solutions until we get them.
Additionally, there is a disconnect between the way that Casey and administrative officials view students and how students view students. We come into meetings like the Ask McDaniel Anything forum with firsthand experience with other students who are facing issues. We uphold a responsibility to represent those students, and we understand that they are not simply “walking around with dollar signs on their foreheads,” as Casey has previously remarked.
Casey and administrative officials come into these meetings with loads of data and statistics on student information, but with a clear lack of understanding of what we truly face. We are qualitative people, and we are being processed quantitatively. When we ask for transparency and access to the statistics that the administration uses, we are denied that information.
We as students are told to produce the data that we have no means to produce, while at the same time being blamed for that lack of information.
On multiple occasions throughout the meeting, Casey compared the track of our college to the track of other institutions in national trends. “That’s on par with the national average” is a frustrating answer to “Why is our institution this way?”
At a college that is supposed to represent a liberal arts education and change students’ lives, why does Casey act as if we’re barely capable of staying afloat? And, like most trends, they fade even quicker than they arrive. Why, as a private liberal arts institution, can we not set our own course, do something different, and set our own trends?
The overall attitude of students at this school should not be “Well, this kind of sucks, but I’ll just keep my head down, do my work, and graduate in a few years.” Students deserve access to resources and changes that will improve our quality of life, and until we get them, we will fight for them.