Office of Student Life trains new leaders

GVL / Luke Holmes - Students listen while Marlene Kowalski-Braun speaks at the beginning of Ignite in the Grand River Room on Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2016.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – Students listen while Marlene Kowalski-Braun speaks at the beginning of Ignite in the Grand River Room on Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2016.

Emily Doran

To prepare student leaders for a successful school year, the Grand Valley State University Office of Student Life hosted Ignite Tuesday, Sept. 6, a mandatory leadership training event for new student officers from every student organization.

At least one representative from the executive board of each student organization was expected to attend in order for the organization to be eligible to receive funding without having to complete a makeup session.

The event was designed to equip student officers with the information and resources necessary to be effective and successful leaders of their respective organizations.

Marlene Kowalski-Braun, assistant vice president for the Division of Inclusion and Equity and associate vice provost for student affairs, and Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life, civic engagement and assessment, gave a presentation addressing issues such as free speech, bias, civility and democratic participation. In particular, they focused on how these different categories of conduct directly affected and were affected by GVSU students.

“In my 22 years of being at Grand Valley, I know how important all of you are to shaping our campus culture,” Kowalski-Braun said. “As student leaders, you play an incredibly important role.”

Kowalski-Braun discussed the balance between exercising one’s right to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment and maintaining a welcoming atmosphere to all students on campus.

“We want the rigorous exchange of ideas,” Kowalski-Braun said. “At the same time, we care about addressing bias when it happens. When bias occurs, you can’t get kicked out of the university. It’s not something (that can be sanctioned), but it is a discussion.”

Baker-Boosamra discussed the opportunities that GVSU students have to promote civility and engage as active citizens on campus and beyond.

“A campus climate of dignity and respect is what we’re really asking all of you as campus leaders to model,” Baker-Boosamra said. “It’s a great responsibility and opportunity for all of you.”

Baker-Boosamra referenced the Community Service Learning Center, accessible at, as a resource for students to find ways to engage in civic activities.

“We’ve got debate watch parties, democratic dialogues, voter engagement initiative, and a number of other opportunities for you as student leaders to engage in the democratic process,” Baker-Boosamra said.

Beyond Ignite, the Office of Student Life also provides opportunities for student organization officers to continue their journey as leaders, including drop-in advising hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Chief Renee Freeman of the GVSU Police Department also spoke to the student leaders and provided some information about the GVPD. In particular, she highlighted the roles of the GVPD beyond enforcement in relation to the GVSU student body and the student organization officers in particular.

“It’s not just about enforcement,” Freeman said. “We are here to help you. We really do want to be at the forefront of what’s happening on campus rather than just have reactive law enforcement.”

Freeman also encouraged students to foster a positive relationship with the GVPD by engaging in communication with the department and asking questions.

“We really try to put our students first,” Freeman said. “(Don’t) look at us as just enforcement, but as partners with you to help educate and keep our campus safe. I just want to make sure that you’re comfortable with GVPD.”