By Frank Sivilli
This is a piece that has been long in the making. It upsets me to think just how long.
It seems I have had issues with the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development (OSLCD) and the Office of Student Life (OSL) since the day I first became a student leader. It is not at all a unique position, if I think back to the voices who have groaned in tandem with me over these past four years. The conclusion I have come to is simple: there is a systematic issue with the management of student life at this university. And I think I finally understand why.
In the 2014-2015 Student Handbook under the Club Rights, Responsibilities, and Requirements heading, section six states, “Registered clubs have the following privileges: use of University facilities in accordance with applicable policies meetings and activities, solicitation of membership on campus under the organization’s name, listing of the organization in the official publications of the University, use of University bulletin boards and other designated posting areas, access to University services, leadership programs, and the expertise of a faculty or staff advisor, a mailbox in the Office of Student Leadership and Community, as well as access to the resource room, an email address on the University system and a University-connected web site.”
These eight points are the only guarantees that the University lays out for student groups on campus. More than half are purely logistical. The first point is the only one on this list that advocates for a club’s ability to program.
Note the absence of specificity. What “applicable policies” are being referred to here? USG Resolutions, The Code of Conduct and The Student Handbook are intermittently cited throughout the rest of the document. Are any of those the laws and regulations backing said policies? And, does “in accordance” suggest there’s a body monitoring said accordance?
As it stands, it seems any policy can be enforced by any administrator to exclude a student group from organizing publically. That’s a frightening brand of non-specificity that has reared its head time and again, making this less a “privilege,” and more a condition.
Note, too, the absence of the words “funding” or “budget.” Neither is mentioned a single time in any of the 19 sections in the Club Rights. Student organizations have no right to funding, and further, the University has no responsibility to provide it.
This perhaps would not be such an issue if not for clubs that have referendum status. A referendum status club is an organization like Mimes and Mummers, CAB or FUEMS that is guaranteed a certain allocation of funding from the Student Activities Fund each semester.
Given the scope in which these clubs operate, it makes sense that they have protected budgetary status. I’m happy that these clubs exist, and I don’t know what campus would look like without them.
But a campus cannot be sustained by the good work of a few dozen individuals. These clubs are deemed essential, and I applaud the work they do and the services they provide for our community, but this same protection needs to be afforded to all clubs on campus.
The university needs to be held responsible for adequately outfitting student organizations with the funds and protection they need to program for all members of our diverse student body. This needs to start with a drastic retooling of the Club Rights document so that it incorporates protection from OSLCD on one hand, and accountability that they will provide the services clubs need on the other. As it stands, student groups are suffering. And so is the university.
Culture is eroding. The number of students who, rather than questioning a student life policy, merely shrug with a “that’s Fordham,” is telling of a deeply apathetic mindset stemming from years of overbearing administration.
“That’s Fordham” has become the go-to response of a student body that has been so fundamentally deprived of adequately-managed programming, that students can’t even imagine a brand of administration that isn’t as backward as it is today.
Fordham has misserved an entire generation of students. I posit that it has likely been going on longer, but I choose only to speak to the experience of my tenure here as a member of the class of 2015.
Last year, when a student group discovered Rex Hall on 187th Street and Arthur Avenue and began running events out of the venue, the response was immediate. An old ballroom, complete with tin-tile ceiling and brass chandeliers, is outfitted with a stage where student groups could perform and speak.
Finally, here was a space free of the labyrinthine regulatory policies of OSLCD’s programming guidelines. I remember attending two events there, both of which were some of the most fun I have had at Fordham to date.
OSLCD’s intervention into the space shut it down. The officially-given reason was that the building did not have proper permits. But regardless of the legal reasons they have come to cite, it is apparent that they saw unregulated student interaction as a problem.
It seems intuitive that student groups looking to program here would be capable of committing to the same goals of community development that they would in an on-campus venue. But the space has reopened, and student groups have been met with OSLCD’s continued refusal to cooperate in trying to organize there as recently as last semester. The initial fervor mounted at trying to reclaim the space has died in the water.
How can students be drawn to organize when their attempts at doing so are cut down at the knees?
Herein lies the cause of apathy: I have come to realize that it is not a sense of uncaring that has decreased student involvement, but a sense of defeat. OSLCD consistently quells student organizers and organizations to the point of impotency, and our peers for whom we organize have suffered the consequences.
Administrators have voiced their concern about the growing climate of alcohol abuse that some say underlies most student interaction on nights off and weekends free.
In the past two years, four new bars (Blue Goose, Champs, Bronx Beer Hall and The Blend Café) have opened to cater to this growing number of patrons.
This way of scapegoating alcohol abuse as the cause of student life’s many issues erases the fact that student groups are not afforded the confidence or the means to provide consistent alternative programming, especially on weekends.
The cost and the process of programming are both strenuous, yes, but the bigger problem is that the option does not even exist for a majority of clubs. One, even two events per weekend is not enough, especially when they are consistently run by the same referendum-status organizations, consistently catering to those small groups of students who have interest. So many students have so completely disregarded the university as a place to find this brand of community that they have turned to outside organizations and outside programming to find the enrichment they want. This does not show a lack of trying on their part, but instead a lack of provisions. If this is not the clearest indication of what students are asking of OSLCD, then I do not know what is.
There are students organizing and programming to stem the apathy, to build community spaces. But, if these community spaces are unprotected by university policy, how can we make this shift? Students are indicating – loudly – that this is what they want. And, instead of providing spaces where that is possible, instead of working proactively to engage with these desires, the administration, time and again, turns to paternalism and admonishment. Why speak to students when you can speak for them?
I have scratched the surface, talking only about my own experiences. But current student leaders understand the flaws of this university better than anyone I’ve met. I do hope that this conversation continues in the years to come. It needs to.
OSLCD needs to be made accountable to students. OSLCD needs to hold protecting the rights of student groups over an interest in controlling their expression.
Our campus culture needs time to heal.
Frank Sivilli, FCRH ’15, is an English major from Franklin Square, New York.