Michel identifies areas for student life improvement, will propose solutions by next year

Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life in the University, recommended that the University take broad action to improve both the perception and quality of student life outside the classroom.

By Aviva Rosman

Bill Michel (A.B. ‘92), assistant vice president for student life in the University, recommended that the University take broad action to improve both the perception and the quality of student life outside the classroom, at a Student Government (SG) meeting Wednesday night. Michel presented the first results of his year-long study of student life which will include specific recommendations to meet these objectives.

Michel said the report was initiated in part due to student perception of the University. “I do believe there is a perception in some parts of the world, some parts of campus, that students here don’t have any fun,” Michel said.

Michel presented six recommendations to improve student life: Increasing the visibility of co-curricular life on campus, creating a stronger sense of campus community, rethinking student centers, improving staff support for student activities, improving communication between RSOs, and enhancing logistical support by making it easier to reserve rooms for events. Within each category, he solicited SG opinions on more specific issues.

Michel has conducted discussions with over 200 students and staff members on “co-curricular life,” a phrase which Michel said captures the overlaps between student experiences in and out of the classroom. Michel also visited four other universities in order to understand other approaches to student life: Johns Hopkins, Columbia, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania. Right now, Michel is in the second phase of the study, collecting reactions from students, faculty, and staff in preparation for submitting his final recommendations some time this year.

Michel said at the meeting that the study began after students raised concerns that the University doesn’t provide enough resources for co-curricular life, creating a perception of the University that inhibits its ability to recruit and retain students, and to sustain a healthy alumni network.

According to Michel, the study set out to articulate why co-curricular life is important, by beginning to evaluate who is involved, and examining current structures supporting involved students.

He also asked College Council (CC) to weigh in on a new catchphrase for co-curricular life, with suggestions including “fun in theory and in practice,” “passionate intellectualism,” and “where minds come to play.”

“We are very good at saying what we are in the negative—we’re not Harvard, we’re not where fun comes to die—but expressing ourselves positively is more of a challenge,” Michel said.

Michel suggested sponsoring more campus-wide programs, such as bringing in major speakers, as one way of creating a shared experience across campus that students could discuss and argue about. He also noted the need to recognize differing needs of different sorts of students, observing that professional and graduate students might want to interact with each other in different ways than first- or second-year students.

“One of the things we have been talking about is a dispersed village model versus a more centralized student center space—today we have a mixed model, with [the University Community Service Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs] and the planned Logan Arts Center, versus an expanded or larger Reynolds Club,” Michel said. “When students talk about the Reynolds Club, it has all the pieces, but it’s not like the atrium in the Booth School, which is a space that helps create community and connections.”

In response to Michel’s question about the balance between student and staff contributions, fourth-year CC representative Christina Melander said that there are benefits to allowing students to do things on their own.

“When the Green Campus Initiative was trying to figure out how to have waste-free events and include composting, we were starting from the ground up, and that was a really good experience,” she said. “Once instituted, recycling and composting after events will be really easy, but it’s those experiences that help students grow.”