Students Raise Concerns About Free Speech and Accessibility

Free speech, accessibility and housing were some of the topics discussed at last week’s Student Senate meeting.

Robert Joerg, a junior from Fremont, Ohio, and the president of Student Senate, explained that the purpose of the Feb. 22 meeting was to open communications between the College and its students in areas they felt the College needed to improve on or hadn’t touched on before.

Freedom of speech on campus was a concern for many students. Albion College was recently ranked by Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as one of the 10 worst colleges for free speech in the country, and students were concerned about what this could mean for the school’s reputation. The article was released in response to a document shared by student Alex Tokie which sparked demonstrations across campus and a judicial review of his actions.

“I think it’s a terrible optic for the school,” said Kody Smith, a sophomore from Dundee, Michigan. “The advertising we do is limited in a certain sense due to our size, and once this is published, we can’t do a lot to counter it, and I think that’s going to hurt in the future. Where I grew up, if this article made it to my hometown, that would be the first they would hear about Albion.”

But other students disagreed.

“When it comes to articles like that, especially if someone has an idea of what a biased source is, if it’s CNN or FOX, you’re going to have a general feeling of the campus,” said Olivia Conover, a senior from Flushing, Michigan. “Free speech even of itself has its limits. You cannot yell fire in a packed movie theater. But I think there’s a difference between free speech and facing the consequences of your speech. I feel like I have free speech. But I also feel like some of the things that would have a strong backlash, I don’t feel the need to say. I don’t have the motivation to say something very divisive in a way that has meaning. I feel like the College is reasonable when it comes to free speech.”

Joerg believed that the article had blown Albion’s status out of proportion, calling the article a propaganda hit.

Another concern students brought up was accessibility on campus.

Claire Dykstra, a sophomore from Ann Arbor, said, “A lot of buildings on campus are either barely accessible or not accessible at all. It looks bad, and from a moral standpoint, it’s wrong and from a legal standpoint, it’s illegal.”

Conover shared an experience she’d had at an Umbrella House event, where someone needed to be lifted into the house so that they could support their sibling.

“I felt ashamed and I felt embarrassed,” she said. “When it comes to accessibility, it has to be a priority.”

It was pointed out that Bobbit does not have elevator access for students, and it is difficult for injured fraternity members to get around in their buildings.

Due to Facilities’ budget cuts in 2008, residences like the fraternities are not being well kept, stated Joerg. Fraternity members are concerned about potentially harmful mold potentially being in the vents. The Board of Trustees is currently debating what to do about the fraternity houses; whether they will be refurbished, moved off-site, or demolished.

“We’ve been fighting to get our building cleaned up for ages. We’re all choking on mold in our pipes. We’re inhaling things that are not good for us,” said Smith, a member of TKE. “With proper ventilation, you can get a building at least smelling decent in days.”

Facilities has explained that mold grows naturally in the fraternities’ outgoing vents but has not been found in the ingoing vents, which would cause health issues. It is the responsibility of the students to clean the vents and the buildings themselves. At the end of each semester, Campus Safety cleans the vents.

There is also concern about the number of brothers being recruited into fraternities this year. The Board of Trustees is considering placing independents on the third floor of fraternity houses if the fraternities can’t raise their numbers to house the large incoming classes expected in upcoming years.

Smith said that the fraternities wouldn’t take this sitting down. “You’re then taking a fraternity and turning it into an extra resident hall. There would just be random people thrown in there. Frats are under the pressure of needing to take everybody to fill up our houses. It takes away our sovereignty. You get to pick who you live with, except now we’re going to throw a bunch of random people in there with you. Good luck.”

Joerg explained the College’s position on this. The College is expecting a similar incoming class size next year as we had this year. Wesley, Seaton, and Whitehouse are full this year, and the only residences on campus which are not are the fraternities. The College is worried that this could become an issue in upcoming years.

Other concerns mentioned at the meeting included professor pay on campus and the lighting of the Walk of Scholars affecting the working telescope in the observatory.

A student brought up the issue of transportation to airports. Students already pay for their ticket, and the issue is also needing to pay Campus Safety a fee of $75 to go to the airport and suggested shuttles being sent to Chicago for large breaks like winter break.

“Campus Safety is mandated to have so many officers on campus at any time,” Joerg pointed out. “It’s cost prohibitive. But it’s also valuable to look at how this is hurting students of lower economic status. If you’re going to recruit people from Atlanta, even middle-income people might have a hard time paying that.”

The suggestion was raised of renting a college van for shuttles.

“Even if two students from different organizations was van certified,” said Conover, “that would be like ten shuttles to Detroit and back. That would be very manageable. If someone had come to me and said, ‘I need a ride,’ I would have donated my time. It’s two hours there and back, that’s four hours I spend watching Netflix a week. I could do that for someone else.”

However, it was pointed out that it would be difficult to get people in very small organizations van certified.

To become minivan certified on campus, students can simply send a copy of their driving record to Campus Safety. For larger vehicles, they are required to take an online test and a personal driving test.

Students would like to see more food stations available on campus, such as food carts or vending machines in the Science Center since the ones there do not take meal swipes.

Rahul Deshmukh, a junior from Grand Blanc, Michigan, and member of Student Senate, mentioned that the possibility of an Urgent Care coming to Albion is in the works, and could potentially be placed in the main floor of Munger Apartments. However, this raised student concerns that Health Services might be done away with.

Deshmukh said that the College is trying to partner with Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall to bring an Urgent Care Center to Albion. This would make healthcare more accessible to the community, but raises issues regarding Health Services.

However, this could raise an issue of accessibility for students. Health Services is on campus, and students who feel ill but don’t have cars can get to it easily. If it was replaced by an Urgent Care, students without vehicles might have a hard time getting their medication.

Photo by Steve Marowski.

About Kellie Brown 32 Articles
Kellie Brown is a senior English Professional Writing and History double major from Traverse City, Michigan.

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