Student senate talks about providing engaged campus

GVL / Luke Holmes - Eileen Sullivan gives her presentation in the Kirkhof Center Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

GVL / Luke Holmes – Eileen Sullivan gives her presentation in the Kirkhof Center Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

Jess Hodge

With the presidential election approaching, Grand Valley State University leaders are striving to make the university a civically-engaged campus for all students, faculty and staff.

GVSU’s student senate discussed how to be help encourage being civically engaged during their general assembly meeting Thursday, Sept. 8. There to discuss the pressing issue with the senators was Dean of Students Eileen Sullivan.

Sullivan was there on behalf of herself and Jesse Bernal, vice president for the Division of Inclusion and Equity. Over the summer, Sullivan and Bernal got together with other faculty and staff members to discuss many things, including civic learning.

“The president this summer asked (us to) take a pulse of all of the great things that are going on in civic learning and democratic engagement on campus, from a civic engagement preparedness area,” she said. “But also to make sure that we’re doing all we can to communicate about free speech.”

Sullivan believes universities, by nature, are a great forum for freedom of speech, expression and ideas. She wants to make sure GVSU promotes that.

“We want to make sure folks know how to go about doing that, whether it’s reserving space, outdoor space, indoor space and being supportive of university groups that want to host events,” she said. “And that sometimes means bringing in speakers who might be controversial in some way.”

Bob Stoll, associate dean for student life, added to the conversation by encouraging the senators, as student leaders on campus, to promote being civically engaged.

Student senate is indeed making a big push for civic engagement with their ‘Rock the Vote’ concert coming Friday, Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. Executive Vice President Sean O’Melia is spearheading the event to encourage students on campus to vote and be engaged in the voting process.

Sullivan also talked about how to help provide people with these opportunities to become civically engaged.

“I think there is a lot of opportunities for learning in the world, and some of those involve protests,” she said.

“What we’ve been doing is trying to gather a lot of information and have been reaching out to campus groups to see in terms of programs and initiatives that they’ve planned.”

She and Bernal were also tasked with making sure the facility use policies were clear to the GVSU community. This includes campus expression statements. Although there are no written rules on campus expression, Sullivan said, she thinks written rules will be helpful to students, faculty and staff.

“I think that’s always helpful when we talk about entering into times where its more likely we’re going to have really passionate people bringing forward their ideas that might conflict with others,” she said. “And even sometimes if those ideas are offensive to others. But to provide space for exchange of ideas and freedom of expression and to be able to take place in the form of free speech (is important).”

A large part of this, Stoll said, can be the visitors from outside organizations who come to share their views at GVSU.

“Sometimes that gets to be a real challenge because it can be a little offensive to many as far as their own backgrounds,” he said. “So we’re trying to be an engaging campus where people are able to exercise those opportunities but we have to do that in a way that we can manage the space and not disrupt the normal activities on campus.

“I think that’s our real goal is that we’re able to help community grow and learn from one another.”