Criticism should be informed

Don’t just complain about the administration, engage with the issues and be a proactive part of the solution

Allison Williams, ArtSci ’09
Allison Williams, ArtSci ’09
Students take in the Queen’s Centre town hall last February.
Students take in the Queen’s Centre town hall last February.

It boggles my mind when I ask many of my student peers who have beef with Queen’s if they’ve ever attempted to contact any administrators or expressed their concerns to their elected student representatives and the answer always seems to be a resounding “no.”

For example, students have been criticizing the Queen’s Centre for years, claiming the project is at the heart of all our woes. Yet at the Queen’s Centre town hall in February, only 60 students came out to offer an opinion on future construction plans. It’s frustrating that students often don’t take the opportunities presented to learn about the intricacies of these situations and to be heard, instead choosing to be arm-chair critics supporting their opinions with half-truths and second-hand sound bytes.

These administrators reached out to students and we couldn’t be bothered to show up. Instead of engaging in issues, student involvement seems to begin, and often end, by clicking “join” on a Facebook group. Even worse, many of these Facebook groups serve to propagate misinformation, with few students taking the initiative to go straight to the source for an explanation.I also wish students had attended the Queen’s Centre meeting to see Associate Vice-Principal (Facilities) Ann Browne address the group, emphasizing her team’s sincere commitment to trying to please as many people as possible with the resources available to the University.

Staff and administrators want students to enjoy their time on campus. Over the past months, I’ve seen many students express outrage over a host of other issues including budget cuts and the cancellation of Homecoming. But I sympathize with the administrators who are forced, in these types of situations, to make choices where it is impossible to please everyone and difficult to convey the complicated deliberation that goes into every decision.

I’m not claiming the administrators and staff members are always right, but I do believe they try to do the best that they can for Queen’s and Queen’s students. I sometimes feel that I’m firmly situated in the minority of Queen’s students who don’t seem to suffer from a case of the what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys when it comes to the administration.

This view is symptomatic of a larger campus problem in which, instead of viewing staff and administrators as part of our community, we view ourselves as customers and consumers wholly entitled to dictate the service the University provides. But since our education is largely funded by the government and by the generosity of alumni and other philanthropic donors, universities—and as a result, all students—owe a debt to society. Our institutions of higher learning must work for everyone’s collective advancement. Across the University, staff and administrators often have to combat the impression that “they” (as a singular, unified group) callously and consistently screw students over. However, students who make such bold claims lack the compassion necessary to realize that individual staff and administrators are just people who must do the best that they can to navigate the complex problems placed before them.

Given that Queen’s is facing some difficult times, it’s time we started working together and moved past this us versus them mentality. I recently attended a departmental meeting of Alumni Relations staff here at the University. The department of Alumni Relations is situated in the Office of Advancement, which is where all of the fundraising for the University takes place. In recent years, some students have viewed the Queen’s Office of Advancement sceptically and with cynicism, thinking it is only ever plotting and scheming for ways to obtain money from Queen’s students, parents and alumni.

They couldn’t be more wrong. At this meeting, the Associate Vice-Principal (Alumni Relations) hypothetically pondered, if we didn’t do fundraising, would we still do alumni relations?The staff members in the room, many of them Queen’s alumni and all of them champions of post-secondary education, pointed out that alumni and current students are ambassadors to the best and brightest potential and future students. The most inspiring answer, however, was given by a staff member who plans reunions and events. She said alumni relations are important because by keeping alumni connected to Queen’s, we inspire current students to dream big and to aspire to excellence.

Moments like this remind me that staff members and administrators, who may not even interact with students in their everyday tasks, are more than just university staff. They are integral to the overall student experience and truly are trying to make it meaningful. It is important for students to be well-informed and engaged with campus issues, to express opinions and to offer constructive criticism. At the end of the day, we are all working together as citizens of the larger Queen’s community. Simple antagonism won’t help. Take it upon yourself to learn about issues that affect you and make your opinions heard in a productive manner.

Allison Williams is the president of the Queen’s Student Alumni Association.

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