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Students, senators congregate to address important campus issues

November 15, 2007

UW-River Falls students gathered together with Student Senate officials Nov. 13 to address issues from campus safety to dining services during a nearly three-hour Student Association meeting, followed by a very short Senate meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to create a forum in which students could express their feelings pertaining to any and all issues on campus to Senate. By doing this, students are allowing Senate to better serve them, President Derek Brandt said.

“By coming here and talking to us, we learn what [students] feel is most important,” Brandt said. “Then we [as Senators] can better represent them.”

The meeting began with special requests from audience members who wished to address issues not specifically noted on the agenda. Issues discussed included lack of Greek life advertisement opportunities on campus, improvements to Ramer Field becoming a top priority and the possibility of some sort of mass transit system between UWRF and the downtown Twin Cities areas.

Campus security and safety was the first item officially on the agenda, and it soon became obvious it was a hot topic for students, whether it be lighting on the back paths at night or residence hall card access policies.

Many suggestions were made to improve the back pathways at night. Some, such as purchasing more blue emergency lights and increasing Public Safety’s presence, were met with agreement; others, such as completely closing down the paths at night, were met with much resistance.

The meeting continued with discussion over whether or not unauthorized entry into residence halls is a pressing issue. Increased security, limiting access to only students living on campus and regulation of identification checks were all topics of concern, but ultimately, over half of the students present believed that the security issue comes back down to individual responsibility and awareness of danger areas.

Students are also reminded that the Campus Safety Walk will take place 8:30 p.m. Nov. 27. Anyone interested should meet in the Heritage Hall area of the University Center.  From there, the group will walk around campus, identifying danger areas on campus and suggesting solutions for improvement.

Smoking on campus was the second hot topic of the night, revolving around enforcement of the 25-foot rule. Some believed that increased enforcement, such as citations, would be effective; others believed it would only increase resistance.

The idea of a completely smoke-free campus sparked debate.

Among others, chair of the Leadership Development and Programming Board, Mike Pearson, argued that the idea of a smoke-free campus was not at all plausible.

“[A smoking ban] seems too big for a first step,” Pearson said. “We first need to enforce the 25-foot rule.”

Diversity Awareness Committee representative Lakiesha Townsell summed up the argument for those in support.

“It’s about either making smokers feel unwelcome for a habit they chose to be addicted to or making nonsmokers feel like they can’t breathe clean air on campus,” Townsell said.

Parking continues to be an issue for students; commuter parking, the possibility of pay lots and parking closer to campus were addressed.

Advertising policies and hours of the UC were discussed as well, ranging from requests for increased advertising areas to extending weekend hours.

With the upcoming expiration of Chartwells’ contract, dining services received many complaints as well as suggestions for improving access to food services during holidays, improving food quality and better meal plan options. Students with strong feelings about any of these issues are encouraged to attend committee meetings, which take place every other Wednesday night in the Mississippi Room of the UC.

The proposal of a bar on campus gave students more to debate. Arguments ranged from those in support to those who opposed, as well as some who were neutral. Many arguments were made for both extremes, but the discussion ended with the suggestion to continue researching other schools with similar venues.

Diversity discussion centered around an overall lack of resources for organizations from nontraditional to multicultural to gender expression and identity. Several students made requests for more space, more storage area and staff aid.

Diversity and Women’s Initiatives director Nikki Shonoiki said that while diversity is increasing in numbers, campus is not keeping up.

“We have 418 multicultural students and have increased retention from 50 percent to 80 percent,” Shonoiki said. “We’re growing in numbers, but not really as an institution.”

After nearly three hours of debate, the meeting ended with advisor Gregg Heinselman reminding students that change can happen, but only with the help of students.

“We want you to recognize that all of these things [that we’ve talked about] are doable and feasible, but remember that much of it has to come from the students,” Heinselman said. “But also remember that as you struggle [with these issues], the administration struggles as well.”