Students at WMU and KVCC questioned administrators on systemic oppression within student affairs during a town hall meeting Saturday, June 27.
Student Dalia Sanchez and WSA President Taylor West were present as moderators.
The virtual town hall started with a poem read by student Leslie Barajas.
"Yes, I am angry, and no, I will not say this nicely,” Barajas said. “There won't be civility in my words, because you aren't civil with our lives. How dare you ask that of me? Your white guilt is a choice. Our Black, indigenous, persons of color pride is our hope."
Students also questioned the panelists on the high prices of student housing. Steve Palmer, director of Residence Life, said that $1,200 per month for rent, which is the rate for a loft at Arcadia Flats, is not affordable to the majority of students.
Palmer said the goal with Arcadia Flats was to offer different price points within housing.
He added that because Arcadia Flats was built up rather than out, which is the layout for Western View apartments, caused the price to build the apartments to be higher. This made them consider the appropriate rent to charge.
“We all gulped at that charge,” Diane Anderson said. “It is a very high charge and I don’t disagree with that at all. None of us were very comfortable.”
Anderson said the five loft apartments in Arcadia Flats were the first ones to fill, which came as a surprise. She added that she didn’t think anyone would sign up for them because of the price.
“I think it speaks to the fact that we have students on our campus that are looking for a variety of housing options and are able to pay a variety of dollar amounts,” Diane Anderson said. “What we’ve tried to do across the entire portfolio is offer a range of prices so that we’re able to meet the needs of all of our students.”
Currently the flat rates per bed for the Arcadia Flats are:
Two Bedroom Flat: $800
Two Bedroom Studio: $750
Two Bedroom Flat Four Person: $585
Sanchez asked the panelists how WMU feels that the prices displace students of color, especially if they could not afford them.
Palmer said it is covering a spectrum of prices within the portfolio. He also said that the University is looking for new and different ways to look at the Valleys. Such as, what ways can they renovate them to make them more attractive and affordable.
Sanchez then asked what housing currently doing to eliminate the opportunity gap when it came to affordable housing.
Anderson said they have done an analysis on who lives in the housing. She said they found that students of color are overrepresented in the housing system, compared to the percentage in the overall student population.
“Within the overall portfolio, it does not appear that our options are keeping students of color or students who would be concerned about price point for whatever reason, from staying in the resident halls,” Anderson said.
Anderson said her concern is that the price point overall will go up as older buildings are taken down or renovated.
Sanchez also asked if faculty are required to participate in training and conversations regarding conduct and if they can make the training mandatory, rather than optional.
Nicole Albee, director of Student Conduct, said that these are not mandatory, they are voluntary. She said the training and conversations are with the Office of Faculty Development or by departments. She added how she wished she had the ability to make them required.
Sanchez then read a question from a student who asked how training works on campus. Louis Thomas, director of Kalamazoo Valley Accelerated Associate Program, said they have an obligation to advocate on behalf of the students.
“I solely believe that students should help inform our practices.” Thomas said. “If there is an area of need that is being communicated to us as student affairs administrators, the responsibility falls upon us to take the next step.”
Anderson agreed with Thomas’s statement. She said they need to make sure that the experiences students have in the classroom reflects the values they have as an institution. She added that it is the same for the out of class experience.
“We are missing the mark if we are not paying attention,” Anderson said.
Coty Dunten, director of Life Resources at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, mentioned that while KVCC was making many decisions, they were not hearing enough input from students. So, two years ago, they created the Student Voices Advisory Committee, a group of students that represent the student population. They bring decisions they are making to this group to get their feedback.
Anderson said this was an excellent practice that a lot of departments in student affairs use. She said that there used to be a student advisory board across the division and she wants to go back to that this year.
Another student also asked if student affairs could hire more people with diverse backgrounds, specifically Black people.
“The short answer is yes,” Anderson said. “The challenge right now is we’ve just gone through some significant budget reductions, so we don’t have a lot of staff vacancies, but I know we talk about that in student affairs, we are committed to diversifying our staff. Over the years, we have lost several people of color that were on our staff, and the people who replaced them often were white. So, we are not as diverse as we need to be or want to be. So as we have opportunities to create new positions or fill new positions, that will be a priority.”
During the first event of the“Communities in Collaboration” diversity & inclusion panel, many students expressed concern that most of the panelists from the schools were white. The panel on June 27 was more diverse.