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Students hold action forum

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Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

Abigail Self | Staff Photographer

By Zoe Hannah / Staff Writer

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Students still frustrated with the University’s strategic plan aired their concerns on Wednesday — this time, sans administrators.

Members of the Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition, or PSSC, said the University has not adequately addressed concerns they raised at the open student forums on Oct. 7, and Oct. 15. In response, PSSC hosted its own student action forum 8 p.m. Wednesday in the William Pitt Ballroom.

Without Pitt administrators, 35 students addressed issues such as sexual assault on campus and administrative transparency.

Raghav Sharma, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, helped organize the student action forum. He said he could feel the “energy about to burst forth on this campus this year.”

“This is exciting, especially considering that this is our base off of which we’re going to grow,” Sharma said.

The Pitt Plan is a strategic guide for the University that addresses five key goals for the University over the next five years: advancing educational excellence, engaging in research of impact, strengthening communities, building foundational strengths and embracing diversity and inclusion.

The Board of Trustees approved the plan last Friday during a board meeting at Pitt’s Greensburg campus.

Sharma, a junior politics and philosophy major, said he felt the student action forum was necessary because the administration was incapable of answering “the many, many questions” that students had during the first two forums.

“They basically ignored everything we said,” Sharma said.

The coalition did not invite administrators to the student action forum, though Sharma said they were welcome to come.

Though he was not available for comment after the forum, Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and interim dean of students, said earlier Wednesday he has put the students’ comments to use. Bonner said he gleaned a great deal of information from their previous input.

Bonner organized the last two forums with David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management.

“I have asked the Student Government Board to assist me with appointing students to the strategic plan working groups to increase student engagement at the working-group level,” Bonner said.

At the last forum in October, Joseph Streets, the environmental chair for Student Government Board, asked Bonner and DeJong about where sustainability fits in the strategic plan.

At the time, DeJong said the plan’s broad outline did not include any specifics relating to sustainability. Earlier today, Bonner said he is meeting with sustainability coordinators this semester, including members of the student sustainability office and interested students based on that feedback.

Bonner said he will work with students already invested in Pitt’s sustainable impact, “to increase awareness and discuss the various sustainability initiatives across campus and develop a plan to improve our collaboration, cooperation and environmental impact.”

Because some of the attendees’ issues overlapped, the crowd broke into smaller, specialized groups. These factions focused on sexual assault on campus, student debt and activism visibility on campus.

Jen Swanson, a junior philosophy major, joined a group of about 10 other students who wanted to talk about debt and tuition. Members of the group said the Board of Trustees should include students in the decision-making process.

“We are Pitt’s biggest investors and they don’t really treat us like that,” Swanson said.

Bonner said in an email that he was happy to hear students continuing to have productive conversations about the future of the University.

“We are fully committed to students and recognize that their involvement is absolutely necessary to continue to enhance the student experience and provide the best possible return on the investment in a Pitt education,” Bonner said.

At previous forums several administrative members, including Bonner, DeJong, Juan Manfredi and Cynthia Golden — chairs of two of the plan’s five committees — joined in on groups of students discussing advancing educational excellence and diversity and inclusion.

Swanson said she thinks the University sends “buffer administrators,” to student forums just so that the students feel that someone is listening, even if those people don’t do anything about their concerns.

Student Government Board officers Jack Heidecker and Lia Petrose attended the forum and said students should take advantage of the SGB’s position as a student union..

“My hope is that you’ll come to us first,” Heidecker said to Christian Bean, a sophomore psychology major concerned about how SGB can help with the issues raised at the forum. “We might not be able to solve the problem, but we’ll at least get you on the right track.”

Heidecker also highlighted SGB’s weekly open meetings at Nordy’s Place on Tuesday nights. Heidecker said members of the administration like Kenyon Bonner and Steve Anderson, the director of residence life, usually attend these meetings.

Petrose spoke with the sexual assault group about the availability of lawyers for students to confide in about their legal concerns, whether they be related to sexual assault, rental leases or otherwise.

SGB is working with University administration to plan an open forum for students with administration on Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. in Nordy’s Place.

“I’d like to leave this space, all of us feeling empowered,” Kai Pang, senior economics and philosophy major said. “I think we’re taking for granted that if we set the table, people will come — that’s not true.” 

Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred to Steve Anderson as the director of student affairs. Anderson is the director of residence life. The story has been updated to reflect this change. 

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Students hold action forum