By Danny Priest
This story is not a column — it is a reported piece providing student perspectives. It features quotes from an open-discussion with a group of students focusing on the events of the past two weeks at Springfield College and the response from both the administration and the student body. Students voiced in the story went on record willingly. This story is not intended to place blame, point fingers, or attack any one individual, but rather it is meant to get a discussion going and encourage students, faculty, the administration, alumni, trustees, and the Springfield College community as a whole to evaluate how they’ve handled events and reflect on their decisions.
It’s been a trying past few weeks at Springfield College. From the sudden and tragic passing of freshman Connor Neshe, to the “I wonder why…” art board put up in the campus Union, and the accident in President Mary-Beth Cooper’s front yard – things have been difficult.
Some feel the school has neither talked about these incidents enough, nor been there to comfort students and assure them that appropriate actions have been taken. Others feel the school has done all that it can and speaking up should not solely be the administration’s responsibility.
Last week, Cooper acknowledged how although she shared all the information she had, and explained there were no additional updates available, this could be frustrating. She urged the community to “respect the privacy of Connor’s family, friends and teammates. They need our support, please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers,” in a statement published by The Student.
Regardless of what one’s opinions may be, discussion is happening. It’s critical that everyone on campus is listening — from top to bottom, every voice is important.
On Tuesday night, the Men of Excellence Club (MOE) held their weekly meeting in the Campus Union. Men of Excellence is a club on campus that attempts to empower college men by fostering leadership skills, pride, and humility.
Last week, the club posted an IGTV video of the “I wonder why…” board that ended up getting over 1,400 views, and included reactions from club members.
Senior Marcel Diaz is the president of the club and junior Kris Rhim is the vice president. On Tuesday, MOE members expressed their thoughts on what has happened on campus and how the reaction of the administration and students should be viewed.
The views expressed by the members of MOE are consistent with many thoughts around campus, but their key focus was on keeping the discussion going and taking action.
One thing that has upset a majority of the student body is the feeling that the administration has been light in its response to the passing of Connor.
Junior Suraji Omoru was frustrated with the lack of details surrounding the passing of Connor, which left him feeling hurt.
“Like everybody was out doing this and that and that one of our members, one of our family needed help and I wasn’t there. They didn’t clear any of that up, so I sat with that feeling like I could’ve done something. I was out while this was happening and someone was suffering,” he said.
Those frustrations were common across campus. At the same time, the argument could be made that it’s not the school’s place to inform students about the details of a death or write a tribute via email.
That type of demonstration is more common through reported journalism, which The Student provided.
“I almost feel as though that initial email that was sent out was somewhat appropriate. Because Mary-Beth is not going to know every person on this campus and people are already talking about there was a passing on campus and it was a freshman, she had to get that information out and she’s not going to be given the time necessary to go out to his coach or to people who live next to him to gather all this stuff so that we know his story,” Diaz said.
He argued that more information from the school would have been beneficial, but that it’s not necessarily the College’s responsibility.
“I think his legacy is something that shouldn’t be entirely placed onto the administration and something that they put into an email,” he said. “It should be his friends spreading all this joy about him. If it was one of my friends who passed, I’m going to make sure that everybody knows everything good that this person did and everything that he was involved in. I’m not going to leave that up to the College.”
Another key point of contention is the “I wonder why…” board in the Union. According to multiple sources, the board was taken down because drapes for homecoming were going to be hung up over the curtains in the Union, which would have blocked the board from visibility anyway.
The board was returned to Jessica Poser’s community arts class and they were offered to choose another location to put the board on display. The class ultimately decided they didn’t want the board anywhere else except its original location, and when that was not an option, it was not put back up.
“Whatever reason it was taken down I feel like that’s unacceptable, because what was on there should have been seen. There’s people on this campus who are screaming to be heard,” Omoru said.
“My thing is if you took it down and you don’t want alumni and trustees to see it, that means you’re ashamed of it. Work on it to fix it, show the people who can actually help you change things, what’s going on here. Listen to your students,” he added.
Rhim made the argument that it would have been appropriate for the administration to send out an email explaining what the board was and its contents if students hadn’t seen it, and talking about how the school was or was not working to fix the issues.
Instead, it was silence.
“But the silence is just…I would have rather preferred them to say something wrong. I just wanted to hear something like what are you doing about that,” Rhim said.
Junior Tyson Jones added to that point made by Rhim.
“If they were to have said something, it would have been a lot better than nothing. They’re just making it worse for themselves,” Jones said.
“I feel like they’re downplaying our intelligence sometimes like we’re stupid and we’re not going to know what’s good. People understand the stuff on the wall is bad, everybody knows,” he added, receiving snaps and head nods from those in the room with him.
Again, the argument can be made that the administration dropped the ball in terms of its response. But if the finger is to be pointed at the administration, students must recognize who that entails.
“I just think that people are quick to blame Dr. Cooper for everything when you should be blaming her as well as her leadership team. So that’s Patrick Love, Steve Roulier, Calvin Hill, Stuart Jones, Dr. (Craig) Poisson, the Provost, the whole leadership team,” Rhim said.
There’s not many colleges across the country where the president is so active and engages with students as much as Cooper does. However, in doing so, it is widely expected that she will continue to be just as vocal and have as much of a presence during the negative times, as she does during the positive times.
“As students we can’t point our fingers anywhere else. She’s taken that upon herself by going public and saying I am the face of this college, I am making all these decisions, I am making all this change,” junior Tyler Merullo said.
“So if you’re going to be responsible for the institution on such a public level, you need to be able to take the responsibility as a public level for the negative things as well as the positive things,” Merullo added.
While Cooper has not made any further statements beyond emails regarding campus events, she’s not the sole person who is responsible for the school’s response. In fact, the administration isn’t the only party involved in this, either. The students play a large role in shaping the campus’s environment, and eventually, the topic of conversation at the meeting shifted to what students on campus are actually doing, or not doing.
“With the wall, I feel like a lot of those issues are things that we knew were already happening on campus. Nothing is new to us, like we knew there (were) issues with sexual assault, we knew there were issues with racial tension on campus, we knew all that was occurring, it’s just now people are talking about it,” Diaz said.
“I think the main thing we should get from that is to continue having that conversation and not allow for that to die down and get swept under the rug because that’s when nothing gets done. Whether it’s through us, or anybody, it’s just having those conversations. If you know something’s wrong, speak up, use your voice and allow for your opinions to be heard,” he added.
The mood on campus right now is tense. Everybody’s talking about action, but not many are actually taking it.
“People need to be mad at the right people, but the issue is that people just want to be mad. Last week being mad was trendy, being upset was trendy. People are just angry and it’s empty anger with no substance and no backing and they’re not doing anything about it,” Rhim said.
Last Saturday, MOE hosted an event focused on the importance of using one’s voice to make change and the importance of doing so. Student activists from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s were present to aid in the presentation. The event, which was held in Marsh, was sparsely attended by students, even after the difficult week the campus community had just endured.
“If you really want to know how to use your voice and channel that anger for positivity and change, why didn’t you come to this event?” Rhim asked.
An ugly truth on campus is that while some individuals’ may have good intentions, they just don’t follow up with action. Too often, on-campus events — important ones at that — are sparsely attended by students.
Everyone is busy. But is it fair to get frustrated with the administration during times like these when students are not stepping up? The administration may not be perfect, but in reality, neither are the students.
“We can’t just point the finger at the administration and expect everything to be solved because us as students do have a responsibility for how we interact with each other, how we go about clubs. There were four or five open forums last week, MOE planned a forum way before that but nobody was there,” sophomore Xavier Washington said.
“When that wall went up a lot of students were angry, but angry about what? What are you doing? Why are you angry? What are you angry about and tell me what you’re doing to change that,” he added.
As mentioned above, there’s no argument in this story. It’s not the students versus the administration. It’s not ‘did Springfield College fail in the way it handled these situations last week?’
The point is that it’s time for a reality check. A reality check for every student, staff member, faculty member, administrators, alumni, trustees, whoever it may be.
“A lot of the things that we’ve been talking about are really hard things to talk about, but the fragility has got to stop. The fragility has got to stop because I’m a big believer in no decision is a decision, if you’re not speaking, you are speaking,” Omoru said at the meeting.
“If you don’t act and you’re just being fragile and you’re scared to speak and you’re scared to actually discuss these things and reach out to your students; whatever the reason is for pulling down the wall or whatever, it’s fragile and it needs to stop. Because if you aren’t discussing these things, these things are never going to get fixed.”
“We’ve got to become knowledgeable about these issues and there’s no reason as to why that room (on Saturday) should not have been filled. We can’t voice our opinions on all these issues when we don’t know how other people are feeling because we’re not showing up to all these events. The school needs to show up, the student body needs to show up in ways that we haven’t before,” Diaz said.
“We’re trying to find a common ground for everyone. This isn’t about one group getting more prevalence over the other. We should be coming together in unity and working on issues for everything,” Jones added.
Maybe the simple solution is everyone needs to be better. Change happens slowly and nothing will be fixed in a day. As a community we got knocked down last week, but now is the chance to stand up and cultivate change.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling inside: act on it, and don’t be afraid to speak up and be the change you want to see on campus. That goes for everyone — from students to trustees.
A lot of students were upset by what they felt was a quiet response from the administration, but aren’t we being silent too? Let’s start the dialogue now and keep it going forward. If we really do care, we’ll show it by making sure action takes place.
Photo Courtesy Charles Toussant and Tyler Merullo