Plattsburgh State held a virtual session yesterday afternoon where students could hear back from faculty and administration members after the Speak Out that was held March 5 in Memorial Hall earlier this semester.
The Speak Out gave students the opportunity to speak directly to the administration and to convey any concerns they might have about PSU. The Speak Back event was held to inform students on what steps are being taken by the administration to address those concerns.
More than 70 students registered for the event, and seven members from the administration spoke. Breakout rooms were also designed for students to provide them with the opportunity to step out of the meeting and refocus if they felt uncomfortable by any topics discussed.
Mariam Kebe, the Student Association’s vice president for student affairs and diversity, said the Speak Out and Speak Back events were good outlets for students to express their opinions.
“The SA wants to act as a bridge between the students and the administration,” Kebe said. “Often, students are not comfortable with speaking to the administration directly, and that is where we come in.”
Cori Jackson, director for the Center of Student Involvement, was the first speaker. She mentioned how the center is working on improving the communication between administration and students, as she felt there seems to be a gap.
“We have decided that all incoming students, local, EOP and international, will have a common remote orientation during summer,” Jackson said. “We plan on continuing with this event post-COVID-19.”
Jackson also acknowledged the college’s struggle with keeping up with increasing student demand for counseling and mental health services. PSU is working on improving the accessibility of these services.
Josee Larochelle, vice president for Administration and Finance, talked about campus dining and facilities.
“During the Speak Out, we heard students talk about how sometimes they had to make the decision between paying rent or eating,” Larochelle said. “We want to take measures to ensure that no student goes hungry on campus.”
A Dining Advisory Committee and a Food Allergy and Nutrition group have been established to provide feedback to the college dietician. Students are present on the e-board of these groups to ensure that student input is heard as well.
During the Speak Out in March, Rowena Ortiz-Walters, dean of PSU’s School of Business and Economics, said she remembered how one student felt most professors were white, expressing a lack of diversity in PSU’s faculty. In response to this, Ortiz-Walters said Library and Information Technology Services has looked into hiring more diverse professionals due to an increase in student and alumni diversity.
“We believe that if we can diversify their staff, that will be a useful tool to recruit and retain more faculty of color as they will have more colleagues to interact with,” Ortiz-Walters said.
Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Michelle Cromwell mentioned how during the Speak Out, a lot of students talked about their negative experiences when it came to reporting sexual assault incidences. She said there were recurring themes of students feeling unsafe and that it was not acceptable. As a result, faculty will be undergoing more vigorous training to deal with sexual assault reporting incidents.
Other faculty members who spoke at the Speak Back included Anne Hanson, the vice president for Institutional Advancement, and Raymond Carman, an associate professor of political science.
Carman talked about how the general education curriculum is being remodeled based on student, faculty and staff input. A new first-year seminar will be introduced that builds a sense of community and helps develop essential academic, communication, critical thinking and life skills.
The Speak Back session ended with Cromwell holding a moment of silence for COVID-19 victims. She also promised that a follow-up event will be held in the fall, where students will be allowed to ask questions from the faculty as well.