Western Michigan University held ‘A Year in Review’ town hall hosted by the Western Student Association Tuesday, April 20. The town hall was to connect students with administrators to reflect on the past year and discuss how to move forward for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Administrators in attendance included President Edward Montgomery, Diane Anderson, vice president of Student Affairs; Candy McCorkle, vice president for diversity and inclusion and Provost Jennifer Bott. WSA President Taylor West and Vice President Jacobi Wright were also panelists. WSA President-elect Alexis Morris moderated the event.
Montgomery acknowledged there were many things the university could have done differently when the COVID-19 pandemic first began.
“Initially we’re acting like one would during a crisis,” he said. “You wait until you get the facts, you map out a plan, you have a response and that will solve the problem. Unfortunately this was a continuity evolving and moving target.”
Anderson added providing more personal support to students and employees during the beginning of the pandemic was an approach she would have taken at the start of the year.
“This had a proud impact on everybody,” she said. “I think making sure we acknowledge the toll it was taking. It was different, we can’t approach these kinds of things from a cookie cutter perspective because it impacts people differently.”
WMU plans to have a ‘normalish’ fall semester with 75% of the courses offered in-person. Bott said the university will have enough room in classes to keep students safe and socially distanced.
She continued: “We’ve done a good job at keeping people safe and we’ll use what public guidance we have in the fall to do so.”
Anderson said based on what she sees from the vaccines, she is 95% confident the university will run normally in the fall.
“I just believe we’re going to get there,” she said. “I tend to be a hopeful, optimistic person but I'm also paying attention to the science and paying attention to the data. I believe we’re going to be there in the fall.”
Anderson added the university does not anticipate to open residence halls in the fall that contain community bathrooms, including Burnham and Henry Hall due to COVID-19.
It was added WMU’s Little Three complex will be torn down this summer and the Goldsworth Valley apartments will also be demolished. Anderson said this was due to the buildings being energy consumers.
“I think the more we can take down these older facilities that will help us get to the square footage we need to help with the goals we have as an institution,” she said.
She mentioned the new facilities they are building are much more sustainable and friendly for the environment.
McCorkle said on WMU’s campus, students have been emotionally impacted by the civil unrest in the country over the past year. She said this has caused them to look at how they address these issues on campus.
“How have we contributed to these things people are experiencing and how do we correct that?” she said. “And how do we help our community as a whole address the issues?”
Several campus-wide initiatives are also in place to make WMU more inclusive and equitable, Montgomery said. He noted the Racial Justice Advisory Committee (RJAC), the Mountain Top Initiative and the Campus Climate Survey.
“These are steps prodded by our community who is impatient and rightfully so,” he said. “We say diversity and inclusion is a core value and it's up to us to make sure that not just a talked about value but that it's an actual value.”
West added WMU does well at promoting diversity on campus, but the university needs to work on inclusion.
“That’s where equity comes into play, is including and not trying to assimilate, as our nation likes to do.” West said. “Accompanying and encouraging different cultures and different experiences so we can have this ‘salad bowl,’ not a melting pot, at Western.”
Anderson added the new student center was built with the intention of diversity, equity and inclusion. She said it will include an infinity space where students can reserve spaces to have ‘difficult conversations.’