Student Alliance hosted a virtual town hall meeting Thursday to connect with other students and discuss topics that affect the Grand Rapids Community College student body.
Student Alliance President Inayah Hakeem took the lead during much of the meeting, and opened the discussion by asking what everyone was and was not looking forward to for the Fall 2020 semester. There was a general consensus among the members: they were looking forward to being back in the classroom and once again having opportunities for relationship building and face-to-face contact.
“What I’m really looking forward to is sitting in a classroom,” Hakeem said. “Hopefully–hopefully–sitting in a classroom. Even if it’s a hybrid classroom I can’t complain.”
“When I do online classes, I lose time, or I just get too distracted personally, so I’m not looking forward to online classes,” said Brendan Burke, Student Alliance Director of Communications.
The second question Hakeem offered for discussion was about how efforts to support diversity in turn support student engagement and success.
The four Student Alliance members discussed the topic in depth, with some input from a few students and staff members. A major point was that students should feel represented in the classroom.
“Being represented doesn’t have to be tied to race, it can be tied to anything,” Hakeem said. “You know, when I was younger I actually had like an ADHD thing, where I literally could not sit still and couldn’t focus. And I wasn’t aware that I had that, so I felt marginalized in the classroom… I was like ‘why can’t I retain any of this, why does it seem so hard for me to learn?’ So when you are properly accommodated for in school environments, in work environments, in every single environment- even at home with your friends, When people respect who you are, and they acknowledge who you are, then it opens up this space for change and for comfort.”
Hakeem went on to explain that it’s important for students to reach out and have these conversations.
“Part of this is we need to hear from you all, how you think, how you want to be or need to be represented,” Hakeem said. “… We all have to carry the same weight on our shoulders, about making sure every single space is good, and it fits, and it helps every single person be the best they can be.”
“It’s just about seeing more (diversity-friendly action). Nobody is at fault here, nobody is getting criticized, but it’s important that we hold everyone accountable.”
Sonya Hernández, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion asked how students can hold the school accountable if they feel their needs are not being met, and Student Alliance Director of Operations Nio Walton explained different options. A student could go to the head of the relevant department to voice their opinion, and join forces with like-minded students to come up with a plan and make their voices heard if need be. He also mentioned that in that situation he would consider drafting a proposal and writing an open letter.
“It’s easier to address a problem when you have more support and more students around you,” Walton explained.
Another route would be the anonymous ethics complaint process GRCC has in place.
The next topic of discussion was Student Alliance’s new Instagram project ‘P.A.C.T.’ The acronym stands for positivity, assertiveness, consistency, and timing. It is more of a life motto than anything, and encompasses the ideas of being a positive influence, being assertive about one’s beliefs (in a positive manner), employing consistency in one’s actions and beliefs while being open to the possibility of changing them if necessary, and understanding that everyone navigates life at their own pace, and that there is a time for everything.
The project itself is an initiative designed to jumpstart conversations about the diverse yet similar experiences that the students of GRCC have. It comes in the form of weekly Instagram posts that can include art, songs, movies, poetry, or anything else that can offer a window into the experience of the person sharing it.
“Project P.A.C.T will stand as a bond in our GRCC community, providing hope and confidence in all of our abilities to ascend and try again, to think and rethink by challenging our opinions, biases, and predispositions,” states the project’s introduction on Instagram. “For students, by students. Be a part of Project P.A.C.T by tuning into our posts every Tuesday and Thursday at 12 p.m. Get gears turning by dropping comments and sharing but, most of all by understanding that discomfort is the immediate path to growth.”
Burke encouraged students to share any contribution ideas they have for the project with Student Alliance, because they want to hear and share as many voices as they can.
Director of External Affairs Rallah Cobbins responded to a question from a professor about how professors can make their students more comfortable in an online learning environment. He said that finding ways to create connections amongst students and between the students and professor could be an important factor in creating that comfortable learning environment.
“When you’re doing online classes you often feel alone,” Walton added. “It’s really hard to continue on and progress without exterior motivators… You’re more likely to give up or not try as hard because you don’t have that backbone of support. At least for me as a student, I always loved feeling supported, even if you just say something nice… It really goes a long way, even if it doesn’t seem like it does.”
Another way Student Alliance is fostering a sense of community within the GRCC student body is through efforts to set up a Facebook page where students can connect. This idea arises from the existence of various official GRCC department pages and lack of platforms for students to use to reach each other. Burke is spearheading this initiative.