Wooster has always maintained that its academic purpose is to foster an environment where discussion is encouraged and dissenting opinions are valued. To put these principles into action, the administration has consistently prided itself on valuing student input and taking these judgments into consideration before making decisions. In turn, students have appreciated an administration that is willing to listen to their ideas. This academic setting promotes mutual respect between the students and the administration. However, when the Office of Residence Life made a decision to paint over the Greek artwork on the walls of Bissman Hall this summer, the staff fell well short of its collaborative mission.
Bissman Hall is unique in that it serves as the home for nine of the fraternities and sororities on campus. One of Bissmanís other distinctive aspects is the artwork that lines the lounges and hallways. On the doors and in the hallways of each section were the colors and letters of each fraternity and sorority. In each of the lounges, paintings had been created that documented each groupís history. Artwork on the walls spanned from crests and mascots to lists of former Greek members who had since graduated. These designs in Bissman werenít simply decorative ó they documented history specific to each individual fraternity and sorority in Bissman. This made Bissman stand out from other residence lounges on campus, which are simply painted white. This art was a source of great pride and satisfaction for all members of the Greek community. The artwork really made Bissman distinctive and gave it an identity.
Over the summer, however, all of this artwork was painted over by the Residence Life staff, for reasons still unclear to the Greek community. The artwork will be sorely missed by Bissmanís residents ó† the residence hall is now missing one of the features that made it so distinctive to the Greek community. However, the fact that Bissman received a less than stellar paint job is not the real problem. The real problem lies in how the situation was handled by the Residence Life staff.
The painting of the walls came as a surprise to nearly all members of the Greek community. The Residence Life staff asserts that the presidents of this yearís groups were told last spring of Bissmanís expected summer paint job. However, none of the nine presidents from each of the different groups recalls being informed by the Residence Life staff that the painting would occur over the summer. To say that Greek leadership was surprised and distressed when they returned two weeks ago would be like saying that Michelangeloís painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a large piece of artwork. To say the least, the situation was a terrible case of miscommunication and the change was not well publicized to the Greek community. For a decision that the Office of Residence Life knew would likely not be received well by Bissman residents, many members of the Greek community feel as if the wool was pulled right over their eyes.
Residence Life staff should have done more to notify the Greek community that the lounges in Bissman were being overhauled and re-painted. Residence Life staff should have recognized that this re-painting would be viewed as a major change to Bissman residents. At the very least, the staff should have ensured that all Bissman residents were aware of the change.
Moreover, the reasons for why the painting was done are still unclear. Telling the Greek community that the ìfresh blank walls should be seen as a blank slate” is as wholly unsatisfying as a bowl of Ramen noodles. One would assume that this is part of the process to gradually move Greek groups to another residence hall in order for Bissman to become an all-singles dorm. However, at this point no one can be certain. The communication between the Office of Residence Life and the Greek community has been about as successful as Taylor Hicksís recording career ó itís been pretty bad.
Wooster has always been a school that values the involvement of its students on important issues and has actively sought out student contributions. This situation should not have been any different. The Greek community understands Bissman Hall eventually will become an all-singles residence hall and changes within the hallways and lounges needed to be made. But if Residence Life staff deemed that the lounges eventually needed to be painted, it should have included Greek leadership in the decision-making process. Because Bissman remains the home to Greeks for at least one more year, it is still unclear as to why the lounges and halls were painted this past summer. For a liberal arts school that touts student involvement as one of its defining characteristics, one-sided decision-making by the Residence Life staff on this issue doesnít measure up to the high standard of partnership and collaboration Wooster holds itself to.
Wooster has always claimed that it has high expectations for its students to become mature decision-makers and collaborative learners. The administration stresses tolerance and open-mindedness from its students. In this case, the Residence Life staffís decision to repaint the Bissman lounges was anything but collaborative and open. If the school expects cooperation and support from its students, then students should also expect the very same from their administration.