By Sarah Siock
Students had the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns about several university-related topics in an open dialogue with faculty members at the Student Government Association’s (SGA) “Popcorn with Professors” virtual event on April 15.
SGA chose to focus the event on five topics: diversity and inclusion, fall 2021, academic advising, engaged learning and bridging the gap between Westminster Choir College (WCC) and the School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA).
“SGA chose the topics for discussion based primarily upon student concerns. We listened to student opinions at our weekly senate meeting and we talked with our fellow peers to gauge what students were concerned about and what needed to be discussed. We wanted to focus on what students cared most about and what issues had the most significant impact on campus culture,” said sophomore political science major and newly-elected SGA Vice President of University Affairs Andrew Bernstein.
The event garnered nearly 60 student and faculty participants. Each topic was given a breakout room on Zoom and participants were able to move rooms throughout the hour-long event. SGA gathered professors, deans and staff members from various departments at the university to speak with students at the event.
Since there was a wide range of faculty and staff members present at the event, students had the chance to ask a variety of questions. Each breakout room focused on a specific topic and facilitated an open discussion. Staff members present at the event included: Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Kelly Bidle, Executive Director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Pamela Pruitt, Provost DonnaJean Fredeen and Chair of the Theater and Dance Department Ivan Fuller.
For instance, in the diversity and inclusion breakout room, students raised concerns about microaggressions students of color have faced on campus. Students spoke about how diversity and inclusion training for faculty and staff members could help combat microaggressions on campus.
“This was a recurring issue that students expressed, and is something that is quite frankly inexcusable. One of the many possible solutions to this problem is education and training for staff and faculty on how to be aware of microaggressions and to be cognizant of how they are expressing themselves toward students,” said Bernstein.
“Popcorn with Professors” also gave students insight into the fall 2021 semester. Several students asked if they could expect to see a campus that resembles pre-pandemic life in the fall.
During the event, Bidle said, “Pending guidance from the CDC, public health officials and our governor, I have every expectation that in the fall we will be back to normal operations.”
Students also had the opportunity to discuss their schedules and the class registration process in the academic advising and engaged learning break-out room. In these sessions, students asked questions about graduation requirements and voiced concerns about the engaged learning program at Rider. During the event, Elizabeth O’Hara, a junior computer science major and newly-elected SGA president, shared suggestions on how staff members can help students navigate engaged learning.
O’Hara said, “As a freshman, engaged learning isn’t necessarily in the front of their mind because they probably think ‘oh well, I have four years to do this.’ So I think part of it is just being persistent throughout their four years and making sure each class year, starting as soon as we can, is in the loop about engaged learning and making sure we’re getting those requirements.”
Finally, WCC and SFPA students had the chance to speak about the integration of the colleges that took place this year. Dean of WCC Marshall Onofrio expressed how in-person classes will help WCC students feel more accustomed to the Lawrenceville campus.
Onofrio said, “Now, it’ll just be the case, you’re sitting in a room with 20 other students in a history class from all across the university. And I think organically that’ll just get people talking.”
“Popcorn with Professors” served as an event that SGA hoped would bring meaningful change on campus.
O’Hara said, “We believe that Academic Affairs at Rider is better enhanced through collaborative conversation between students and faculty. It is important to hear both perspectives as we all have the goal of making changes to promote academic success. Both parties get the chance to learn from each other, and the more students voice their concerns in front of faculty, the more accountability they have to make the changes necessary to improve students’ academic experience.
Story published in the 04/21/21 issue of The Rider News.