Passions arose at a student gathering Tuesday night, which sought to organize a response to the Slippery Rock University administration’s plans to move underrepresented groups within the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL) to a “Student Success Center.”
The plan, which was proposed by SRU Provost Philip Way, would relocate a number of organizations, including the Office of Multicultural Development, the Women’s Center, the Pride Center and the Veteran’s Center, to the University Union once it is remodeled and rebranded the Student Success Center.
Jenna Temple, the vice president of internal affairs for Slippery Rock’s Student Government Association, said that SGA “stands with the [CSIL] suite” and is 100 percent behind it staying together in its present form, indicating that the current arrangement is necessary in order to bridge gaps between student organizations.
These organizations, which the suite was designed for, were targeted without their consent and do not want to leave, she said.
While there are benefits to such a center, which would serve as a one-stop shop for students’ administrative needs, SGA felt uncomfortable with the administration’s lack of transparency and incorporation of student opinion, Temple continued.
“If it’s meant to be a student success center, there should have been student input,” she said.
The university offered no response as to why only underrepresented groups were to be moved, Temple added, and SGA only received “a canned response of ‘oh, it’s going to be a great place.'”
In an unsigned email sent to the student body prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the university stated that the Student Success Center would provide more space and opportunity for these groups, making the move beneficial to SRU’s goal of fostering a diverse and global society.
The old union’s renovations were agreed to years ago, the email read, and the state system granted SRU $17 million to create a success center similar to those many college campuses feature today.
The university also linked the move to the honors program’s need for a new location, which is currently “off the beaten path” in Patterson Hall.
However, Jessica Johnson, SGA’s vice president of student affairs, said that Dr. George Brown, the director of SRU’s honors program, was never informed of the proposal, which would place honors students in offices currently occupied by minority groups.
“The honors program is not open to all students like many of the organizations that are being moved are,” she said, indicating that it would be more appropriate for honors students to move to the success center.
Johnson added that, despite meeting with the provost regularly, she was never informed of the 63-page plan for the center, which has yet to be released.
Gabriella Lyons, a senior political science and sociology dual-major, captured the consensus at the meeting by stating “separate is inherently unequal.”
“I think about what this means once I am an alumni of SRU,” she said. “I want to go into advocacy, so if I graduated from a school that is known for being racist and homophobic, I worry about what that will say to employers.”
Madison Hollins, a freshman information systems major and a member of RockOUT, SRU’s LGBTQA+ student organization, said that minority groups at SRU are not as successful as the administration believes.
“I’ve heard the F-word and the N-word here more than I ever have in my entire life,” she said. “The administration is lying to us and incoming freshmen by saying we have an inclusive community when they’re the ones ripping the community apart.”
Victoria Davis, an English education major and the president of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said additional plans to move the police station and financial affairs to the old union will make it a ghettoized area.
“If you’re going to the old union, you’re probably in trouble or a minority student,” she said.
Ayanna Byers, a student assistant in the provost’s office, said that there is a devaluing of the student voice on campus.
“There should be a removal of administration that does not listen to student concerns,” she said.
Other students expressed concerns about the low foot traffic the University Union receives, the space this move would take from the already building-less theater department and the university’s poor record of completing renovations on time.
Michael Farah, the vice president of finance for SGA, said that, because SGA donated $5 million to the completion of the Robert M. Smith Student Center between 2008 and 2009, the administration is bound to student input.
“Everyone pays a $210 student activity fee each semester,” he said. “The administration can move faculty around, but we have a huge say in what offices stay in the suite.”
Vanessa Dufford, the former vice president of student life for SGA, echoed Farah’s point.
“We are still paying for this building, but even before we were here, there were other students paying to make this a possibility,” she said.
Dufford indicated that she has heard alumni threatening to stop donating to the university because of this controversy.
Sophie Sarver, a commuter senator for SGA, said that, because the Student Success Center will be state-funded, students will have even less say in what becomes of it.
“If we don’t have a say in a building we are paying for, we definitely won’t have a say in a building the state is paying for,” she said.
Cindy LaCom, a professor in SRU’s gender studies program, told students that the faculty union is behind this movement and that it will be an item on their agenda for some time.
At the close of the meeting, students agreed to form a committee consisting of organizations impacted by the administration’s proposal and develop a series of responses to the plan going into a meeting on the matter, which will be held on March 15 during common hour in the Robert M. Smith Student Center Ballroom, and will be hosted by SRU’s administration .
Provost Way was contacted but was not immediately available for comment.