By: Lucy Brinkman | November 10, 2020
When students came back to campus this fall they were greeted by a beautiful new bridge beside first parking lot. It is well structured, practical and well used by students on their way to classes. However many students were confused by this new construction: why had a new bridge been built, when the speed bump right next to it that is every commuter’s nightmare laid unresolved?
The bridge wasn’t the only new project this year. We came back to a school that had been totally fitted for online learning and taken thorough measures for covid readiness. A new marketing campaign was launched that covered both Redeemer’s brand and the Redeemer Royals brand. As well, a massive new construction project has been undertaken to build a new residence building. It begs the question: how can we spend millions of dollars on these projects and not fix that dang speed bump? Or to put it more broadly: when it comes to strategic decisions about where to invest Redeemer’s resources and how best to improve student experience, are student voices truly taken into account?
Before I continue this argument I must make two disclaimers. The first is that Redeemer’s administration does hear student input. We have the Student Senate which is designed to bring student concerns to the administration’s attention. We fill out comprehensive prof evaluations after each course. We have two students who sit on the Academic Senate which deals with course changes, faculty hiring, the academic calendar and more. When the marketing campaign was being launched last spring, a handful of students were asked to sit on a committee and give feedback on design ideas. The entire student body was invited to fill out a survey on the style and function of the new residence building, of which many suggestions were taken into account. These, and so many more examples, demonstrate that the administration does have opportunities to listen to student voices. The question is, do they make a difference?
The second caveat is that the things that Redeemer has invested in are ultimately good for us as students. The upgrades to fit our school for online learning have allowed students in all situations to fully participate in their education safely during a pandemic. A new marketing campaign and a new residence building and the subsequent increase in student population will be a rising tide that lifts all boats. The more students paying tuition, the more resources that Redeemer has to pour back into the student population.
The question I’m asking is, when making decisions on how to use resources, where to move strategically, how to improve student experiences, are student voices heard in a way that impacts the strategic direction of our school?
Many of us have ideas that we think could improve student experience. As a varsity athlete, my dream would be a better athletic centre, or at least a gym floor that won’t give athletes shin splints. I’ve heard many students talk about wanting better/comfier/cleaner/less broken furniture in the dorms. Maybe you are frustrated with the wifi speed, or the meal plan, or you want more study rooms. The point is, we all have things at the top of our minds that could help improve our daily lives as students. However it often feels like there is a disconnect between what students are asking for, and what we are receiving.
A new marketing campaign and the other previously mentioned additions seem to be designed to draw students towards Redeemer, to sell the product that is a Redeemer education. However less effort is made to sell the school to the students already here. We spend so many resources on the wrapping paper, and not enough on the actual present.
One fact of the matter is that we do have a powerful and effective voice as students, and that is with our dollars. As consumers, we speak with our wallets and in this case, our tuition fees. If you really were displeased enough about something, you could leave the school. However no one is leaving Redeemer because they don’t like the speed bump, or because they want a nicer gym floor or (fill in your dream Redeemer upgrade here). These things would be nice, they might improve the average student’s daily life, but the lack of addressing them won’t lose students, so Redeemer isn’t losing money. Additionally, a new speed bump won’t bring in new students or new income. A new residence building could. Or a new marketing campaign. Therefore these are the things that receive attention. So we can complain all we want about our cars bottoming out but at the end of the day, our money speaks louder than we do and unless you’re willing to walk out, that bump is here to stay.
An example of a lack of cohesion between school decision and student voices was the recent decision to move the winter reading break to Christmas break and hold classes on Easter Monday. This was a decision intended to discourage travel and allow in person classes to continue safely. However this decision received major blow back from the student body. Students are concerned about the effect that this could have on mental health levels or stress management. Some are frustrated about missing out on Easter Monday, a day that they would normally spend going to church, spending time with family and celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Now the administration has valid answers to some of these concerns. They want to discourage travel during the semester in order to reduce risk and keep in person classes happening. They also point out that schools like Calvin College in the States don’t typically give Easter Monday off, but Redeemer has in the past in order to allow students to travel. Now that they don’t want students to travel, they won’t give it off. This is all well and good but even the public school board in Ontario gives Easter Monday off, and presumably that is not for travel purposes. Students are frustrated and argue that they should have been consulted. This decision to change the academic calendar will affect students in major ways next semester, and the fact of the matter is that student voices were not heard in any part of the decision making process, until after the decision had been made. As well, when concerns were brought to the administration after the announcement, it was clarified that there was nothing that could be done since the announcement had already been made.
It is always frustrating to feel as though you do not have a voice, or that your voice is not being heard. I do not have an answer towards these frustrations. I hope that I am wrong, that the administration at Redeemer does care what students have to say, that they do value our opinions, and our dreams and our visions for this school. In the case that I am right, and at least in some part those who hold the power to make decisions at this school have been disregarding the input they receive from students, I hope that this will change, and that we can move forward together to a more collaborative future for Redeemer.