As someone who has been working on the student center initiative for over a year, I was disappointed by the way the announcement on Tuesday night was handled. While the University celebrated and announced that they had finally nailed down a donor, filling the Beach with food trucks and seesaws to win a large crowd for their thank you video, the lack of communication about what the student center entailed left students with pressing and important questions.
While University President Ronald J. Daniels’ email to the student body lauded the fact that the student center was finally happening, it lacked critical details, ranging from simple questions of where exactly it would be, to what would happen to the Mattin Center, to when the construction and planning process would each be happening.
And this lack of communication mattered. Upon conversations with members of the Student Government Association (SGA) on what would happen to all the programs and services currently in Mattin, the University admitted it currently lacks a plan and expressed their intentions to simply figure it out after the announcement. But when our administration has lost so much good faith during the ongoing private police debacle and when so many students have had their Hopkins experiences irrevocably shaped by the Mattin center as it currently exists, that is not an acceptable answer.
As a current senator on SGA, I wanted to give some thoughts on where we can go from here and tell you what you can expect from SGA during this process and how it will all work.
First of all, I appreciate that we will have a student center and received a donation large enough to begin construction. According to the SGA referendum, an overwhelming 82 percent of students want a student center, and many other universities already have one. I truly believe that it will be a vital and necessary good for our campus, and I urge disappointed students not to give up on the student center if they felt Tuesday night was one of confusion. But the student center will only be worth it if we stay involved in the process of making it a reality through vigorous participation in the steering committee and making our voices heard.
Like many of you, I think much of what happened Tuesday night was suspect and demands a closer look. SGA members learned at our weekly meeting on Tuesday that the anonymous donor requested stipulations that are overly restrictive. These restrictions would include a mandate for the student center to be predominantly made up of open communal spaces rather than a mix of open spaces and specific areas designated for important student services.
Last year, I published an op-ed in The News-Letter that called for a student center partly for its ability to centralize the disparate student services across campus in one easily accessible place. I believed then that students should not have to walk more than 10 minutes to reach services crucial to physical, mental and social health, and I still stand by that. The donor’s stipulations — as we know them — prohibit that. That is incredibly disappointing, especially since if the administration accepted these stipulations, they did so without our consultation. Hopefully what we’ve heard so far on this doesn’t turn out to be true.
The administration also has yet to release a plan to replace or include the existing Mattin Center spaces into the student center. Based on the email that President Daniels sent to the student body, the student center aims to be a place where “the spark of creativity embodied in the Mattin Center and other locations around campus continues to flourish.” While they claim this is their goal, their silence on how that spark will continue speaks louder than their lofty words. That we do not know where these performing arts groups will practice and perform during and after construction is unacceptable.
Moreover, the email fails to address what will become of the Student Disabilities Services Office, which was slated to move into the Mattin Center after Advocates for Disability Awareness called for better resources for students with disabilities last year.
The SGA Student Services Committee has begun developing a feedback form for Hopkins undergraduates and alumni on the student center. We hope to distribute this form by Sunday. We will incorporate your ideas, and we will continue to push for our own demands and those of the student body. This process is only the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We should only have a student center if it maintains the services we currently have in Mattin and if it fulfills the desires of our students. To do otherwise would be worse than to have no student center at all.
And to conclude, let me be clear. The announcement of the student center was a good (if badly mismanaged) start, and I am incredibly grateful for the donation made by the anonymous donor. But it will not be a win until we ensure that it serves the needs of all of our students, including the ones who currently use Mattin services and spaces.
Sam Mollin, SGA Sophomore Senator, is a Political Science and Environmental Studies major from Larchmont, N.Y.