On Wednesday, Feb. 5, President Sarah Bolton sent an email to the Wooster community regarding recent concerns about the coronavirus and questions raised by students, faculty and staff. According to the New York Times, the coronavirus is a “novelty respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan, China [that] has spread quickly throughout the country and to two dozen other nations, leaving many experts to fear a pandemic may be on the way.” Most of those infected have been in mainland China, but both the World Heath Organization and United States have declared public health emergencies. As of Feb. 18, around 72,500 people have been infected with almost 2,000 fatalities.
In her email, Bolton shared information about the precautions the College is taking.
“Our Wellness Center staff, and emergency planning teams are fol- lowing all advice of the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department ofHealth,”she stated.“We received updates daily from the local and state health departments.”
Regarding precautions that should be taken, the College has been advised to “follow normal health protocols,” which includes washing hands often, coughing or sneezing into sleeves and making the Wellness Center aware of the situation. The College does not recommend wearing a mask.
Bolton also explained how it is important to be aware of how the virus affects people differently in the campus community.
“Although there is no coronavirus in our area at this time, many in our community are deeply affected by the outbreak, as they are worried about friends or family at home, or unable to see loved ones due to travel restric- tions,” she said. “It is also the case that many Asian and Asian-American people are experiencing heightened xenophobia, bias or discrimination.”
According to Ivonne García, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer (CDEIO), “International Student Services (ISS) has been very proactive in reaching out to our Chinese students
…All Center for Diversity and Inclusion(CDI)directors and staff stand united in the effort to support all students, especially those who feel targeted during this time.”
Jill Munro, director of ISS, explained that the College has responded in several ways in addition to Bolton’s email. This includes sending an email to international students to offer support, the Chinese Department hosting a Lantern Festival, informing faculty about the stress, stigma and micro aggressions that Asian and Asian-American students are facing, and Bolton hosting an open house for Chinese faculty, staff and students.
Regarding travel restrictions for students for spring break, Munro said that only students flying to China would be affected.
“Currently, Chinese students who live in China are not able to travel home due to flight restrictions into the country,” she stated, “and if they are able to get a flight, they might be able to get in, but not be able to get out or return to the U.S.”
Munro also shared at the February faculty meeting that an Asian student had overheard racist comments from other students, but no bias reports have been filed.
In light of this incident, García spoke about how the campus can be adequately respectful during times like this.
“My advice is that we all join in efforts to be actively anti-racist, and to be more self-aware of or own positionality and privilege so that we can avoid engaging in racist and xenophobic actions or comments that cause harm to our fellow community members,” she informed. “The College of Wooster has a unique history of inclusion in its very founding, and I want to encourage every member of this community to actively engage with that historic commitment to the cause of equity and inclusion.”
Yuxuan (Katie) Ke ’20, a student from China, offered advice on how to act given the situation.
“Coronavirus is like any other epidemic in the world. It is not a race- specific disease, and it is a serious trauma for everyone being affected by the outbreak, regardless of their origins,” Ke stated. “I think the best way to support the Chinese community at Wooster is simply to recognize that we are all members of this community.
And let your friends know if you are thinking of them too, though not everyone is comfortable sharing personal stories. If you notice your friend is expressing emotional fluctuation, please try to understand their situation and be there for them when they need you.”
García noted that CDEIO Program Coordinator Kayla Campbell will host office hours in the evening once a week to help others understand the resources available.
Bolton’s email provided additional resources for students, including contact for the Wellness Center, Munro, MacKenzie Bowen, assistant director of ISS and Carol Knoble, international student coordinator. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed an act of discrimination should file an online report available on the College’s web- site. Anyone with interest in traveling to China or any country affected by the coronavirus should contact Candace Chenoweth, director of global engagement or Jamie Adler, assistant director of global engagement.
“Wooster is a global community,” Bolton stated, “and we will support one another in the face of this challenge, which is rapidly evolving and may take significant time to resolve. We will keep [the College community] informed of any changes to health advice or other developments.”
On Feb. 5, members of the joint Student Government Association (SGA) and Campus Council (CC) Oversight Committee held a discussion to talk to the student body about the planned merging of the two governing bodies at the College. An email sent by SGA emphasized the purpose of the meeting, stating, “At this panel, we will be giving a more in-depth overview of the recommendations we will be making to restructure how student government works at the College and will be available for student input or feedback.”
Members of SGA and CC, as well as other students, were present at the discussion, which was led by Emilee McCubbins ’20, Matt Mayes ’20, Isaac Weiss ’20, Emmy Todd ’22 and Samuel Casey ’21.
In the beginning of the discussion, Mayes clarified the reason behind the proposal to create a new body. “The fact that SGA is supposed to be in charge of advocacy and [CC] isn’t, but CC is the one that is able to pass policies does not make sense and it leads to a lot of confusion and inefficiencies between the two,” Mayes said. “Once we have one body whose goal is to advocate for students and actually has the power to pass [policies], I think we’ll see lot more positive changes on this campus.”
After presenting the rationale behind creating a singular governing body on campus, the panelists opened the discussion for questions and comments from the audience.
The first student to raise concerns was the Chair of CC Halen Gifford ’21, who highlighted the potential removal of the civic and service engagement representative, a position that Gifford herself holds. She explained that students express numerous concerns regarding town relations, and that the position looks after improving such relationships by working with the community. “Considering the fact that part of the President’s Strategic Plan on campus is to [improve] community engagement and experiential learning, how does it make sense to remove that individual from the policy-making body?,” she asked. To address Gifford’s concern, Mayes replied, “Most people seem to conceptualize the Constituency [representative] more as a tool in which traditionally under-represented views on campus are highlighted and have additional power. When we compare the needs of — for example, queer students on campus — to something nebulous like Civic and Service Engagement, we couldn’t quite justify that representative having the same representation as other groups. Concerns like town relations on campus, I think that can be done without having a representative from a group that is so wide- spread and dispersed.”
While the members of the Oversight Committee seemed positive about creating a singular governing body, students expressed various concerns about dissolving the present bodies.
One student asked about the new body’s mission statement, to which Weiss replied that it had not been finalized yet, but that the members had a general idea of what it is going to be. “We are working on drafting [a mission statement], but the general idea of this body — as we’re working on the mission statement — is to help advocate for the student body and to help legislate affairs on the behalf of students,” Weiss said.
The most common concern echoed among the audience was that the process of creating a new governing body seemed rushed. At-large Senator of SGA Doug Morris ’22 said, “A lot of the stu- dents have come up to me talking about how they feel like this whole process is rushed, and I’m just wondering why we are pushing to get this done by the end of the academic year and not waiting for at least one more semester.”
Mayes answered that they had received a “green light” from the administration to create a new body. “About talking to students, some students were afraid that if we delayed it further, we would basically be dealing with two student organizations that do not have any powers, waiting for a new government to take over,” he reasoned. “Right now, it seems like it might be a better idea to start the new body. If we need to bring any changes, all of that could be done within the new body.”
However, members of the audience were not persuaded by the response. Several more students echoed similar concerns about the pace of establishing a single government body, and the discussion — which had al- ready gone over its scheduled time — was moved from the Pit to Lowry 119. Although the en- tire audience was invited to that meeting, only two students who were not members of SGA or CC attended.
“I don’t think this was the reaction I was expecting necessarily,” Mayes commented after they moved to the new location. He also noted that he wanted to hear from more students since the same students were express- ing concerns repeatedly. “Is that what everyone is thinking?” he asked. “We’re not trying to de- bate; we’re trying to see how students actually feel about it.”
While student representatives said the process felt rushed, most also agreed that creating a new government body was ultimately a good decision.
Marco Roccato ’20, an at- large senator for SGA, supported the proposal to create a new government body. He urged the audience to think of the merging as creation of a completely new body, instead of thinking of the creation as a “mix-and match.” He emphasized, “We have the chance to set up a stu- dent government that is [not only] the most efficient, but also the most representatives.
Grace O’Leary ’20 also shared Roccato’s sentiment. “I’m all for merging,” she said. “But I really think that we need to come in with a very clear constitution and guidelines.”
Despite her concerns, Gifford also agreed that merging will be a good decision for the future. However, she mentioned that she would not be voting yes until there are concrete policies and minute details “fleshed out.”
After analyzing the feedback, members of the Oversight Committee noted that they would take the feedback and continue to make changes.
On Monday, Feb. 3, the faculty voted to change their policy on accepting transfer credits and International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores, as well as changing the final exam schedule.
These changes were brought to the faculty by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), which reviewed the changes and made a legislative decision on them. The changes the faculty ratified include accepting transfer credits from outside institutions, including credits from online classes, dual-enrollment programs and College Credit Plus. In addition to accepting these credits, the College will now accept IB scores on exams scored five through seven.
According to Dean for Curriculum and Academic Engagement Bryan Karazsia, who serves as the co-chair of the EPC along with Professor of biology Bill Morgan, these changes are effective immediately. Karazsia believes the acceptance of credits from dual-enrollment programs will attract and retain Wooster students.
“I suspect the change that will be most relevant to [incoming students] is the dual-enrollment policy,” Karazsia stated. “I know in the past that many prospective students lost interest in the College because their dual-enrollment coursework was not recognized via transfer credit at the College. For current students, it is [in] effect for them, too.” Karazsia also urged any students who think they might have credits that could apply to their “academic progress” to visit the Registrar’s office.
Both Karazsia and Basliel Ababayehu ’22, a student representative on EPC, said the decision in accepting transfer credits from accredited institutions came from discussions about equity. Ababayehu said these discussions were delegated to a sub- committee.
“This subcommittee raised concerns in equity and the College’s competitiveness in the higher education market,” Ababayehu stated. “This subcommittee found that accepting credit in the form of dual- credit and online courses would be more equitable and provide the College a competitive advantage.”
Karazsia echoed this statement, saying the change makes Wooster more equitable and competitive with similar institutions.
“Some students who might benefit from earning credit over the summer, for example, simply might not have access to coursework that fit our previous criteria for transfer acceptable. This could be due to geographic, transportation or a host of other reasons,” Karazsia stated. “Thus, we felt that the prior requirement was creating inequities for students. The second dimension was competitive advantage. Students who engage in IB programs … or who complete dual-enrollment coursework … are engaged in very high-level work. Most of our peer institutions recognized this work through their policies, and so we were at a competitive disadvantage.”
Karazsia says the push for these changes came from President Sarah Bolton. “President Bolton has really pushed faculty and staff at Wooster to think carefully about structures (including policies) that create inequities for students,” he stated. “As we reflected on this message, and as we worked with students affected differently by different policies, we realized that we could become a more equitable institution.”
Ababayehu is “ecstatic” about the decision to accept college credit and online credits, and think it will make The College of Wooster more accessible to all students.
“In my experience, online courses are more cost efficient than the traditional brick-and-mortar courses,” Ababayehu stated. “With this change in place, a student who may otherwise have to spend an extra semester on campus can more affordably complete an on- line course and graduate on time. Without this change, students who need more credits but can not afford to take extra courses at a college campus during the summer are at a disadvantage because of their financial situation.”
In addition to the the changes in transfer credit policy and IB exam scores, the faculty also ratified a new final exam schedule, which will make its debut at the end of the spring semester. Now each exam will be two and a half hours, instead of the three hour or two hour slots used in the past. Exam one will take place from 8:00 – 10:30 a.m., exam two at 12:00 – 2:30 p.m. and exam three at 4:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Karazsia said that the exam schedule of two years ago, which started at 8:00 a.m. and lasted un- til 10:00 p.m., presented concerns over learning, safety and balancing academics with student life. As a result, they piloted the most re- cent final exam structure, in which students took exams in a two hour time slot. EPC then solicited hundreds of survey responses to find out how students felt about the final exam schedule and worked to make it better.
“The current exam schedule of two hours did not produce a favor- able impact amongst both students and professors, especially in STEM courses,” Ababayehu said. “It proved particularly difficult to fully test student knowledge in a two hour cumulative exam. So, it was reported that students felt that the actual exams were not shortened proportionately to the shortening of the time.”
As a middle ground, EPC and faculty decided on two and a half hour exams. “In my experience, two hour exams are too short for a com- prehensive exam in courses that are not essay based,” Ababayehu stated. “I believe that there is little harm in increasing the time because a student done early is always welcome to leave the exam, but I have experienced that the length of some of my exams in STEM courses warrant a longer duration to truly reflect a student’s understanding of the material.”
EPC manages some significant changes occuring at the College, and Karazsia says they have a full schedule the rest of the semester. Moving forward, Karazsia says EPC will be “studying and making recommendations on [tenure- track] faculty lines.”
During an all-staff January Residence Life meeting, Residential Assistants (RAs) were notified of the possibility of a new system which would require the RAs to input data regarding each of their residents into a spreadsheet intended for Residence Life. Commenting on the purpose of the intended data collection, the Director of Residence Life Na- than Fein stated, “The RAs are often the first employees of the College who know if a resident is in need of additional support.”
As of now, the data collection process will not be used by the Resi- dence Life or the Dean of Students office although it raised questions from the current RAs. Regarding the potential invasion of privacy, an RA who requested anonymity stated, before the plan was called off, “We are all really unsure of what is happening with this data, but the RAs are essentially being forced to collect it.”
They continued, “We have to put data in about who our residents are friends with, what clubs they are a part of, how they engage with campus, etc.” Despite these comments of the data collection process having contained personal information, Fein affirmed, “We are looking at broad information about the student experience, such as does a student appear connected on campus, as opposed to specific information, such as who is a student friends with.”
When asked about where the motive for the data collection originated, Fein explained, “We have been working collaboratively, be- tween the Dean of Students Office and Residence Life, to think about the best way to learn if our students are getting the most out of their residential experience.”
Commenting on if this data collection process was necessary, Dean of Students Scott Brown stated, “We are exploring how to be a resource more proactively, help check-in with students that may not necessarily be in a crisis, but could benefit from some help connecting the dots, reflect on what they are hoping to get out of their Wooster experience … the general questions, in whatever form that makes sense to RAs, are to help re- fine what they do already and make it easier for them to support their residents.” Fein added, “We already ask our RAs about the experience of their residents, but we are hop- ing to encourage them to ask more specific questions to make sure we are getting residents proper support. If we only ask how someone is doing, we get general answers … If we start being more specific with our questions, we can make sure that students have the best possible experience at the College.”
In terms of how the data would have been collected Brown stated, “It is not secret at all that we are doing all we can to best serve and support students.”
This new system will not be put into practice, but considering how it could benefit students, Brown stated, “RAs are asked and trained, to be able to answer the question — How are your residents? Any concerns? We find this pretty general check-in can often miss how the student is really doing — navigating loneliness, struggling in a class, managing a personal issue, not sure how to make friends, etc. … this [process] might help go beyond what would help just this individual resident, and think about how to best welcome and enhance our floor/building. RAs can help connect them with resources in an easier way. The ‘collection’ of information is simply what we do now informally.” Fein added, “Our goal is that students feel supported on campus, are connected to community, and have the resources they need to be successful at the College.”
On Dec. 19, President Sarah Bolton sent an email detailing a rise in tuition, room and board for the 2020-21 school year. “After careful deliberation, the College’s Board of Trustees has determined that the com- prehensive fee … will increase by 3.89 percent. For a student with a typical board plan and a standard double room, this will mean an increase of $2,500, for a comprehensive fee of $66,750 before financial aid,” Bolton stated.
When asked about reasons for the rise in tuition, Bolton said, “Each year, the cost of maintaining our program increases somewhat. We try to give our staff and faculty cost- of-living raises. There are also some inevitable cost increases in health insurance, fuel, food and other contracts, and at times there are new student needs that we need to address (adding a counselor in the Wellness Center is one of the examples).”
Vice President for Finance and Business/Treasurer Jim Prince said, “Our annual tu- ition increase is generally calculated as a [percentage] increase versus a whole dollar increase. This year’s increase was 3.89 percent and is comparable to prior years’ percentage increases.”
Current students of the College had differing opinions about the rise in tuition. Annelisea Brand ’21, co-president of the First-Generation Student Organization stated, “The reality is that institutions increase prices every year on average about $2,000. I am not surprised about it because it is a fact and common thing. In order to try to alleviate the increase, government student loans give more money to students as they progress throughout the educational system to counteract increased prices. However, it never covers the full amount.”
Maggie Dougherty ’21 had a different opinion, stating, “Honestly, I do understand that the College needs to increase tuition costs for students each year — it sucks, but I get it. What I don’t get is why we don’t have a tuition lock, which many similar schools do. The concept of a tuition lock is that, while tuition might increase for incoming students, it will never increase for current students.”
Regarding a tuition lock, Prince responded, “It is true that some institutions have a tuition cap for incoming first year students. However, some of those same institutions have later reversed that practice, finding that it was not financially sustainable. The College of Wooster has evaluated this idea but found it would not be a model that covers the increasing costs of the quality education that is offered at Wooster.”
Some of students’ main complaints about the rise in tuition each year is that merit-based scholarships do not increase, staying consistent regardless of tuition rise.
Dana Kennedy, director of Financial Aid stated, “Merit scholarships are awarded upon admission to the College and are renewable for eight semesters. The benefit of this renewable award is that students and their families can plan for this award annually. If a student is eligible for need-based aid, they will reapply annually by filing the FAFSA.”
Prince added, “The College prioritizes need-based aid rath- er than merit aid. While recognizing the financial impact on all families is great, we feel that financial assistance needs to be directed to those with the highest needs.”
Bolton also commented on the difference between merit and need-based aid, saying, “We offer all the financial aid we possibly can, while maintaining our ability to pay for and run our educational program. Each year, we significantly increase the financial aid coming from the College for students who have demonstrated need, because of our commitment to access.” She echoed Prince’s comment of prioritizing individuals with the highest need.
“We understand that families have unexpected circumstances that change their ability to pay tuition,” Kennedy stated. “When those circumstances arise, like a job loss, or higher than typical medical expenses, we urge families to reach out to the Financial Aid Office. We can walk them through the process and explain what documentation we might need to review their request.”
Beall Avenue acts as the main thoroughfare of The College of Wooster campus, but it has also long been an intersection between the lives of students and city residents. Hateful comments, harassment and sometimes acts of violence towards students along Beall have highlighted Wooster’s fraught “town and gown” relationship. Rooted in power dynamics not easily examined or unpacked in one article, there is no clear, agreeable solution on how to both improve the relation- ship between the City and College of Wooster while making the campus safe for marginalized students. However, some figures on campus have already begun to do the difficult work to both make Beall safe for students and better connect the campus to the City.
One of the most prominent initiatives to create connections between the College and the City of Wooster is“Bridging Beall,”a collection of service projects created in 2018 by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and local community organizations. CDI housed the funding from a grant to create the program, but the planning team was comprised of four faculty members and five members from the City of Wooster’s community. The program looked specifically at the political divide between the City and the College in its first year. In its second year, “Bridging Beall” focused on homelessness in the local community.
“The goal of the program was to create opportunities for discussions across points of difference in the campus and community,” said Nate Addington, director of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. “Ultimately, we wanted to show that there is much more that unites us than that divides us and to create relationships within the campus and community.”
Addington feels that the goals of the program were met by both objective and subjective measures. “All participants completed a survey before and after participation in the program and we saw very clear trends in the data that showed that barriers were being broken down and that systematic ‘othering’ was being reduced,” he noted. Outside of survey data, Addington also observed that the program had created interpersonal relationships. “I know that several members of the program are still in touch with members of their small groups and that real friendships have been formed,” he said.
People to People Ministries, a City of Wooster non-profit whose goal is “to provide an immediate, realistic and compassionate response to people with … basic needs when these needs are not being met through any other programs,” partnered with CDI in the “Bridging Beall” initiative. People to People’s director Joe Szeker also felt that the initiative had positive effects on the relationship between City and the Campus. “I think the students got a good feel for the scope of the need in our city and found similarity with the places they grew up,” he said. Even though there still may be misunderstandings, Szeker believes that the initiative helped students and city residents find common ground. “I think one thing became clear for all of us as we talked at the conclusion of the event: that poverty and its effect on people in it are the same no matter where you are from, and I sensed in many that they gained a better understanding of the need in our city, and again, some could relate to it,” he commented.
Halen Gifford ’21, chair of Campus Council (CC), also participated in “Bridging Beall” and saw its positive effects from the student perspective. She felt that residents of the City of Wooster learned just as much about The College and its students through- out the service projects. “In my group, none of the community members knew that the College of Wooster has students that attend who are from low- income backgrounds. Learning this really surprised people and I think changed their outlook on the College even if they already thought positively about us,” she said.
In terms of safety for students along Beall Avenue, Director of Security and Protective Services (SPS) Steve Glick acknowledges that there are still general concerns about the use of racial slurs, traffic and lighting along Beall. However, he has seen some improvement in these issues thanks to College and City initiatives. “Based on the number of reports, the incidents have seemed to decline,” he said. “We have seen an uptick on pedestrians getting hit while crossing — almost every one has been after dark — which is why the College improved the lighting. Kudos to Facilities for working with the City and getting it done,” he said.
In terms of further initiatives, Glick spoke to a few plans that SPS has to improve student safety. “We have had some preliminary conversations with the City about changing some signage, maybe add some additional pavement markings; and we are adding additional cameras along Beall as well. Our patrol officers are reminded about being visible along Beall Ave., whenever they have the time.”
However, Wooster students still feel that there is much work to be done in terms of student safety. Annays Yacamán ’21, vice chair of CC, addressed concerns around student safety on Beall. “I have been yelled at several times while walk- ing down Beall, either being catcalled or … with derogatory words. I am from the inner city of Chicago, and despite people’s perceptions of it, I have felt far less safe walking down Beall,” she commented. “I think there is a shared understand- ing amongst students of color and other marginalized people to avoid walking on Beall at all costs, even if it means being inconvenienced several minutes.” Though the College approved funds for additional cameras on campus, Yacamán does not feel that SPS has taken adequate measures to ameliorate student safety. “As far as I know, there haven’t been any new preventative measures for student safety on Beall — only reactive measures, such as stressing us to report incidents,” she said.
Moreover, the process of reporting incidents of harassment is still cumbersome. According to Yacamán, “I personally am not sure what constitutes being reported. I also doubt students want to be bombarded with having to follow up with a report and talk to a bunch of people, only to be told nothing can be done.” Gifford echoed Yacamán’s sentiment that students lack power in decision-making around safety. “Campus Council really doesn’t have any power in that area. We have worked with Security to identify areas they could improve. But again, we don’t have any actual power to make those changes. The best I can do is act as an advocate for student needs when they come up,” she said.
Still, members of both the College and City are continuing to create inroads and have positive outlooks on the future for the relationship between city and campus. Addington feels that the College is work- ing towards building a sense of solidarity with the City of Wooster. “If we have a problem with equity on campus, then so does the town … creating that culture of solidarity isn’t something that will hap- pen overnight, but programs like ‘Bridging Beall’ service houses, the community-based AMRE [Applied Methods and Research Experience] projects, the health coaches and so many more are helping to break down walls that have been built up over time,” he said.
Addington further expresses optimism about College initia- tives underway that will con- tinue creating this solidarity. In addition to hopes of bringing “Bridging Beall” back next year, the office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement is working to engage community partners more with service houses. Finally, he com- mends student efforts to improve relationships with the city through Wooster’s newly re-chartered NAACP chapter and programs such as the Soft Power Project and Soup & Bread.
Szeker agrees that continued interest and energy from students will further create connections and improve the relationship between the City and College. “The students themselves have become the catalyst that will continue to help improve the relationship between the students, the College and the community for years to come,” he commented. By “infus[ing] organizations like ours with young people to help us (which we greatly need) … we can help students learn more about poverty and themselves.”
Gifford also encourages students to continue building a culture of solidarity with the town. “What I think is important for people to remember is the majority of community members do not hate Wooster students and they do not hate the College. Those individuals who do or say hateful things to us are not representative of Wooster or Wayne County,” she said. “The hate that those people promote is part of a much larger toxic culture that is a problem all over the country. It is wrong and inexcusable, but we shouldn’t label all of Wooster.”
Ultimately, creating solidarity between the College and the City of Wooster will require many more joint community efforts. Many student safety con- cerns still need to be addressed in order to make Beall an acces- sible area for marginalized stu- dents. However, both the College and the City look forward to improving their relationship at large.
Initiatives on the horizon show promise for further con- nections and addressing sys- temic injustices that both the campus and city face. Says Addington, “Anytime we can ad- vance the mission of our institution, while also being a good neighbor to those around us, well, that is a win-win and I’ll take that offer every time.”
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