By Radhika Viswanathan
Published: October 5th, 2016
In an effort to learn more about the Brooklyn College community ahead of her presidency, Michelle Anderson conducted a listening tour last Thursday. Meeting with three groups of people—the faculty, non-staff faculty, and students—she asked for specific questions and concerns regarding the college’s identity, culture, challenges, and goals.
The meeting with students began at 12:30 p.m. in the Student Center. “I want to hear your experience,” Anderson emphasized, taking photos with several students before the official event.
She started off the tour by asking for the students’ help with her new role in the Brooklyn College administration and inviting the students to directly approach the two microphones in the room with their questions or concerns.
Students broached a wide range of topics, from campus security, to issues with professors, to lack of transparency in communication between administration and students. “I don’t always feel safe here. I often see security guards sleeping on the job,” said Christina Canatino, a graduate student. “You can literally just walk into the building and not get ID’ed.”
One student described how poor campus security had threatened her life; senior Eileen Lang’s eyes began to well with tears as she recounted her experience of being attacked outside the campus entrance.
Anderson took notes on these comments and then asked the students to express how they thought their problems should be addressed. “I like that she asked me what I thought would be a good idea, what I could bring to the table – how can we fix the security issue?” said Canatino.
Canatino suggested a system that would require students to swipe their ID cards before entering the building—an idea that was met with several claps and cheers from the other students in the room.
“I would definitely have liked to hear an idea that President Anderson had about it,” said Canatino, “But if she recaps everything we spoke about in an email, maybe some of her ideas would be included in there.”
Students were not the only ones who noticed that the president seemed to take a new level of concern for their issues compared to the last president. According to a Brooklyn College spokesperson, “Staff and faculty were also positively impressed by the breadth of the discussion and the change in style—this is more of a hands-on approach—from previous administrations.”
The attendees at the Listening Tour were especially struck by the fact that Anderson followed up every student’s concern with questions and asked them to further elucidate their statements with examples. “The listening tour is indicative of President Anderson’s style from what I have read of her work at the CUNY law school,” said CLAS President Flo Salinas. “From the interactions I have had with her, she is a great listener, she is proactive, she is pragmatic, and above all a clear communicator.”
A few students brought up the Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct Act, a policy by the City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees that would allow administration to decide when and where campus protests would be allowed to happen. Interestingly, Anderson was unaware that the policy was still being discussed.
“I was surprised that she did not know [the Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct Act] was still being discussed,” Salinas said. Clarifying her statement, she said, “I think students (including me) assume that administration is aware of issues affecting us on campus when we haven’t clearly articulated our needs all the time.
After the tour, Anderson sent an email to the Brooklyn College community: “Yesterday I was honored to hear from many of you on my Listening Tour, and I’d like to thank those of you who were able to participate,” she wrote. “Your heartfelt words gave me a sense of your deep commitment to the college.”
Included in the email was a link to a survey for those who wish to voice their issues but could not attend the listening tour.
“I look to have more discussions with President Anderson about how best to communicate student issues to her as a student government representative,” said Salinas. “She has made herself available to us so I want us all to follow up.”