Lafayette’s new direction and the silencing of student voices

By Jeff Wheeler ’16

This week, Lafayette’s faculty committees for diversity and enrollment planning hosted open forums for students and staff to discuss terminating the DC Posse Program and redirecting its funding toward general financial aid. Students have some strong opinions on this topic, many of them quite passionate. But while students are wondering what will happen to DC Posse, I feel compelled to ask an even more important question: Will the administration actually consider students’ opinions on the matter?

I may not be a Posse scholar, but I myself have certainly benefited from Posse’s incredible work on this campus. I for one am concerned for Posse’s future, but I am also concerned about something more. I fear that decision-making processes on this campus that directly affect student life tend to put the voices of students on the back burner.

The potential termination of Posse only scratches the surface. On Wednesday, the Lafayette community received an email about the administration’s “exciting new plan” for the college’s future. The plan has three objectives: Increase financial aid, grow the size of the student body and attract high-quality faculty with “competitive salaries.”

This plan has been long in the making. Two years ago, students at another open forum were asked whether they thought Lafayette should start accepting more students each year. The overwhelming response: No. Students argued that college facilities like Lower Farinon, Skillman Library and Kirby Sports Center are often overcrowded as it is. This critical input appears to have been lost somewhere along the line.

Students often express their doubts that the administration knows what it’s like to live in our shoes. In just the past two years, the incoming classes have been significantly larger than anticipated, leaving Residence Life scrambling to house everyone. Lafayette’s administration has found an upside: We’re popular! But to students and staff, overcrowding is a headache.

Upperclassmen will understand when I say this is the Lower sandwich bar all over again. I wish I could say I am surprised, but somehow I am not. I wonder if these open forums are really meant to encourage dialogue or just to placate students. The first Posse forum was only scheduled to last 50 minutes, and committee members spoke for most of that time. Thankfully, students demanded real discussion, and the event ended up lasting three hours.

It is disappointing that student input has often been ignored in favor of administrative objectives. I understand the logic, though. Students attend Lafayette for four years, while administrators and faculty might stay for decades. It makes sense for them to think about the college in the long run. But at an institution whose express purpose is to educate students, shouldn’t student voices count for something?