The Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) and the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a student organization summit in Shaffer Hall on Wednesday.
Representatives from Shepley Bulfinch, the architectural firm that will help determine what goes in the student center, presented on the student input that they have collected at 16 engagement sessions.
Afterward, senior Chase McAdams, chair of SGA’s Committee on Student Organizations (CSO), presented guidelines for student organization budgets, operating guidelines and the auditing process, which he said began on Monday.
Junior Keelin Reilly, president of Students for Environmental Action (SEA) and member of comedy group the Buttered Niblets, acknowledged the necessity of the audits but argued that certain changes seemed excessive.
“Our organization is not traditionally organized in the way they want it to be. I think we will have to make changes,” he said. “But the way that they’re talking about it just sounds like a bunch of arbitrary rules that they’re trying to make us comply with.”
According to Kalyn Pavlinic, an interior designer at Shepley Bulfinch, the firm has been collecting thousands of notes worth of student feedback and comments.
“Every time that people write a note on a Post-It note, we’re putting that into a spreadsheet that has over 4400 comments. Those are being categorized so that we can understand what...people are most concerned about,“ Pavlinic said.
Swetha Kumar, member of the dance team Shakti, expressed a need for performance spaces in the new student center.
“As part of my dance team, we want to see more performance spaces catered to dance groups like the current dance studio in the Mattin Center,” Kumar said.
Other than the arts, the data results showed other priorities some students had. For instance, a place to watch movies was one of the most highly requested ideas.
Spaces for movies (90 requests) and cards/board games (50 requests) were more requested than those for music, dance and comedy (25 requests).
Pavlinic expressed her optimism for the student center act as a dissemination of the arts.
“I think the student center has this awesome possibility to open up arts to a broader audience across Johns Hopkins because more people will be coming into the student center, will be aware of performances that are happening and go and attend them,” she said.
Pavlinic pointed out that because Mattin currently has a blackbox theater, she found it likely there would be an equivalent in the new student center.
Rather than looking at the demolition of Mattin as a negative development, she believes the new center may popularize the arts in the Hopkins community.
Architect Michael Cullum explained Shepley’s outreach research. He acknowledged that there would be some trade-offs made in the process.
“We’ve tried to reach out to as broad a spectrum of students as we can, this is where the students are weighing in,” he said. “We know how to benchmark this against other student centers around, we know there are going to be other institutional needs that are going to be overlaid by the administration... this will impact the weighting of priorities.”
Pavlinic presented a series of target categories that were being used to plan the student center. These categories included Eating, Gathering, Creating, Unwinding and a number of others.
Kumar, a graduate student on the executive board of GRO, pushed forth dining as a primary concern. She pointed to her unique experience as a graduate student and the demands that come from that.
“As a grad student, I stay on campus late at night simply because I have to do research and grad students, we don’t have a lot of dining options on campus so we brought up the idea of having late-night options on campus,” Kumar said.
In addition, Pavlinic explained that while specific restaurants like Taco Bell, a highly-requested food option, may not be able to be acquired due to contracting issues, another taco vendor could potentially come to campus.
In this way, the dining study is being used to identify potential markers that students want in the center. Other attendees turned their attention toward the organization and utility of the student center.
Sonal Singh, one of the co-directors of the peer listening service A Place To Talk (APTT), was encouraged by the inclusion of her organization in the planning of the student center.
Singh did, however, express her concern about whether or not APTT would receive a permanent home in the coming student center.
“When we got here, we were expecting to have to justify the need for A Place To Talk to have a room in the student center and it was actually really encouraging to see under the wellness section A Place To Talk already listed.”
Reilly expressed his hope that the University would build the student center in a sustainable manner.
“As always, SEA wants to make sure the building is built like it’s the 21st century, environmental concerns taken into account,” Reilly said. “I know Hopkins has a lot of guidelines for sustainability goals so I’m hoping that’s met in this construction.”
Nandan Kulkarni, a member of Hopkins Taekwondo, was optimistic about the student center.
“I’m generally glad they’re taking things into account and hearing students out,” he said. It doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on a student center that no one’s going to use.”
Four weeks ago, SGA informed students that CSO and SLI would be examining student groups’ practices, missions, funding and other criteria. During the second half of the summit, McAdams presented information concerning budgetary guidelines, the audit and organization bylaws.
As part of the audit process, the committee is examining the recent transaction history of each organization to ensure that they fall within University guidelines.
Calvin Smith, Jr., the director of SLI, first explained that student groups that use applications such as Venmo to fundraise are acting in violation of University policy.
“All of you have internal order numbers or internal accounts through the University. Venmo does not connect to the University so it goes to someone’s personal account,“ Smith said. “You all are utilizing University funds to support your fundraiser, but the money from the fundraiser is never being reconciled with the University because we never see it.”
In the email that announced the event, McAdams sent a survey gauging the selective criteria present in student organizations.
McAdams further explained the impending shift from exclusionary clubs to open organizations, specifically citing donation flow as a primary cause.
“We’re looking right now to see what groups are doing and working to transition them into open groups which is what the university requires,” he said. “The main concern is that the money comes to student organizations comes from the Parents Fund and that money comes from the parents and is supposed to be available to all students.”
Smith further clarified this change. He explained that while all clubs must be open, a review process will be acceptable for the executive boards of student organizations.
“You can still have review processes, applications, interviews for your executive board, just not your general membership,” he said. “Anyone should be able to come to your general meeting.”
Reilly criticized these new stipulations for student organizations based on his experience in the Buttered Niblets.
“It would be ridiculous to expect performing arts groups that can only have a limited number of performers to accept everyone who wants to be interested,” Reilly said. “We had more than thirty members audition for our group this year, we can’t possibly have all of them as performers. It just wouldn’t work.”
However, SLI’s Expectations of Student Organizations requires groups to be open to all students regardless of gender, disability, race and other legally protected characteristics, though the document specifies certain exceptions for fraternities and sororities, along with performing arts and sports groups.
Last week, McAdams explained in an interview with The News-Letter that there were over 200 groups that used some sort of exclusionary practice, in violation of SLI’s expectations.
APTT, which requires specialized training, does not fall into any category of exceptions. Co-Director Sonal Singh expressed concerns about new enforcement of this stipulation and how it would effect the quality of her group’s work.
“We’re a student support group, our members go through a whole semester of active listening training and so our goal is to understand what the goal of the audit is and how our group fits into that and how we’ll have to adjust,” Singh said.
McAdams concluded by underscoring that this transition is not intended to be punitive.
He explained that the current goal for the CSO is to get student groups in compliance with University and SGA regulations.
“Our steps are looking to move groups to compliance. We’re not trying to deactivate groups or put groups on probation,” McAdams said. “We want to look more to how we can take groups and how they’re functioning now and get them to a place where they’re functioning in accordance with University policy and SGA guidelines.”