Students and administrators bring ideas to the table at Community Dialogue dinner

For+some+students%2C+the+event+is+the+only+occasion+when+they+can+meet+with+senior+administrators+in+such+a+casual+setting.

Yunkyo Kim/The Daily Northwestern

For some students, the event is the only occasion when they can meet with senior administrators in such a casual setting.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Students, faculty and administrators discussed academics, mental health and intersectional equity over dinner this Thursday at Associated Student Government’s Community Dialogue.

The quarterly event is co-sponsored by Quest+ and ASG. The dialogue aims to encourage members of the NU community to have open-ended conversations about student life, which in turn has led to programs like Books for Cats, which provides free STEM textbooks to financially eligible students.

“Students and administration (in 2016) came together and decided that we needed a mechanism that wan’s just in times of crisis, that we could come together and have these conversations in an open format,” said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, interim vice president for student affairs.

For some students, the event is the only occasion when they can meet with senior administrators in such a casual setting.

SESP junior Joanna Sherman said she was overwhelmed when she entered Foster-Walker’s dining hall to see University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Jonathan Holloway. Attending the event for the first time, she said the administrators she spoke to seemed genuinely interested in ideas students were sharing.

“I definitely think something can happen,” Sherman said. “These people are hard to contact even through email most of the time, so I’m curious if this is sort of a checkmark for administrators but I didn’t get that feeling tonight.”

Sherman said she had productive conversations with administrators about student health care and expected a follow-up on the discussions to lead to actions.

Sekile Nzinga-Johnson, interim diversity officer and Women’s Center director, said she was looking forward to hearing student ideas she could use as guidance in her new role to improve the experiences of students of marginalized communities.

“I’m not navigating the University as a student,” Nzinga-Johnson said “I’m navigating the university as an administrator so I do need your insight, your ideas, your energy.”

Conversations revolved around differences in requirements in schools, adding more staff to Counseling andPsychological Services and sustainNU and expanding the Books for Cats program to language-based classes.

Students also emphasized support for students of marginalized identities, bringing up financial barriers for first-generation low-income students to go to study-abroad programs as well as a need for the University to provide Chicago Transit Authority passes, as students find off-campus housing.

Students stressed during conversations that the University should discuss and offer political amnesty to student protestors by negotiating with FreeSpeechNU, an ASG committee on free speech legislation.

In light of the recent decision by the Board of Trustees to refuse divestment from fossil fuels, students also said they wanted to see more advocacy and transparency in investment decisions. After conversing with some of the students on their ideas, administrators said they took away helpful ideas on how to make institutional changes to the University.

There will be another community dialogue in Spring Quarter, where administrators said they will bring a new set of accomplishments and challenges to the table.

“We had a really good honest conversation here … that’s the way change happens,” Payne-Kirchmeier said. “Know that we will take this back and we will work on this again and in the spring, we will give you an update.”

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