My name is Lorena Gullotta, former Co-Chair of New Student Programs and author of the New Student Leader petition. I would like to address a concern that stems from the process of doing the petition and fighting for policy changes. This concern goes beyond the question of whether or not New Student Leaders (NSLs) should be allowed to be in the presence of underage drinking. The more concerning issue revealed is the lack of open communication between students and administrators.
Throughout the process of creating the petition and discussing policy changes, I met with several administrators to discuss the challenges NSLs were facing as a result of the current policy. I advocated for a reasonable amendment that was ethical, equitable and effective. This amendment would achieve the desired goals of the administration without socially isolating NSLs. In these meetings, I was being heard, but not listened to. I was just one person. So I mobilized the NSLs to answer an anonymous survey and support the petition. With results revealing that 90.9 percent were breaking the particular rule and 97.7 percent supported the change, I felt as though this issue would be disregarded no longer.
“The power of presence is exceedingly powerful,” Asst. Dean Kiem said in last week’s article. The survey and the petition could be seen as the NSL presence voicing the need for change. But presence, I’ve learned, is only as powerful insofar as people acknowledge that presence. There were meetings between professional staff members from New Student Programs and Residence Life to discuss the petition and the policy. But no students were ever invited to these meetings. We had a piece of paper but no actual voice to defend or further clarify our position. How can you expect to make an equitable policy decision if you are missing the voices of those who brought forth the concern about the policy?
Not only were there no students at these meetings, but there was never a meeting between the professional staff and the NSLs to allow NSLs to openly express their concerns as a collective. The only meeting that was set up was meant to clarify and further explain the current rule, but not for NSLs to try and convince professional staff to change the policy. No NSLs went to the meeting. They had been silenced during the whole process and even with this face-to-face meeting, were still not going to be able to come forth and verbalize their concerns.
Furthermore, I believe an unacknowledged fear exists concerning students standing up for policy changes. For NSLs, the consequences for standing against the policy could have had potentially negative consequences stretching beyond the parameters of just the NSL position. I had to make the survey for NSLs completely anonymous. Why? Because there was a fear that admitting they broke a rule and wanted change could affect their candidacy for other leadership positions on campus. Many of the leadership offices on this campus are strongly interconnected, so who’s to say that the NSL’s actions in one position will not affect his or her ability to be selected for another. With such overlap, it’s difficult to ask someone to risk potential future aspirations for a cause that is seemingly not achievable today.
Students of Fairfield, let your voices be heard. As students – as valuable members of the Fairfield community – if you believe in doing, changing, or supporting something on- or off-campus, let it be known. Do not allow yourselves to be silenced.
Read about the NSL petition for alcohol-policy changes here