When reports that the university is considering mandating a third-year meal plan surfaced late on a Wednesday night, students understandably responded with outrage at what was correctly interpreted as an affront to the idea of a working relationship between students and administrators.

Less than 48 hours later, representatives of three groups — the Women’s Center, the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the LGBTQ Resource Center — crammed together in a Healey Family Student Center discussion room awaiting news of their collective fate. They were there to discuss the proposed unification of the three peripherally related offices, and the congregation of both students and faculty who materialized to address this possibility stood unified on one front: opposition.

In both cases, backtracking began quickly. An email from Associate Vice President for Auxiliary Services Joelle Wiese to undergraduates about meal plans said it was simply a proposal under consideration and assured that no decisions would be made without their input. In the HFSC, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson remained attentive to various complaints and showed a willingness to backpedal on the idea of the resource center merger, ultimately rescinding the description of the move as a “consolidation.”

Considering the outcomes, some might say that this is how the system of student input is designed to work: Administrators float ideas in the early stages and student feedback determines the course and rate of action. Yet this system, which is meant to foster trust and cooperation between students and administrators, has also generated doubt and frustration. Faith in administrators to act in the best interest of students has only diminished.

The reason: Students had to defend against these proposals in the first place.
In the cases of the three-year meal plan and the affinity group merger, it is easily perceived as an affront to students that they were forced to oppose changes so far out of the realm of acceptability. If these proposals from the administration were intended to merit student response, then student input should be happening sooner in the process.

First, considering the three-year meal plan, increasing the size of the student body that dines at Leo’s would exacerbate many of the issues that students find objectionable — namely long waits, crowded tables at peak mealtimes, a lack of overall flexibility and high costs.

Adding a third required year at Leo’s suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly is wrong with the dining system here on the Hilltop; while the blame does not solely lie with administrators, it is time a productive and focused conversation took place.

Rather than dragging students by the collar to Leo’s, administrators should turn their attention to student frustrations, and develop proposals with regard to student thought. This approach would better demonstrate respect for student interest from the administration.

Similarly, the idea to combine the Women’s Center, the CMEA and the LGBTQ Resource Center shows a general misunderstanding of the importance of these offices and their roles in undergraduate students’ lives. To start, these groups have little in common in terms of their missions, other than that they all serve specific groups that require specific resources.

Dissent to the proposed combination of these three centers demonstrated how these groups were created to diversify our understandings of discrimination and marginalization, not consolidate them. Fighting for the rights of women, people of color or queer individuals may have some overlap, but each requires specialized minds and services tailored to specific issues and needs.

It is true that administrators have a better sense of what the university’s larger obligations and goals are. In some instances — for example, implementing policies to move more students onto campus in accordance with the 2010 Campus Plan agreement — proposals that students would ordinarily be opposed to are required or mandated by the university’s legal and financial obligations.

However, decisions and proposals made without these apparent pressures should take student interest into account from the ground up. If Georgetown wants to make improvements to dining on campus, administrators should first gauge student opinion on how to do so. Similarly, if Georgetown wants to consolidate offices, administrators should first see which offices serve similar purposes on campus.
Administrators are right to bring students to the table to discuss university policy, but when the change should not be on the table in the first place, inviting them to sit down serves only to undermine understanding and trust.

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