NU studentsdrop the topic, just talk
Baylee Annis, the chair of the Campus Activities Board (CAB) at Norwich University, sat at her desk, her mind whirling as she tried futilely to come up with a theme for NU's Speak Week (SW) discussion.
To her dismay there weren't any particularly strong topics that students were especially excited about, so it seemed like the discussion would be pointless.
This is how Annis, a 19-year-old sophomore English and education major from Saranac Lake, N.Y, came up with the idea that the SW discussion didn't need a theme. She figured that, instead of following a theme, students could talk about anything that was bothering them.
Students at Norwich University who participated in the Speak Week discussion could bring up any topic bothering them without repercussion, according to the chair of NU's CAB.
"Myself and some faculty members met a few times over the last month or two and we started to gather ideas for the discussion," Annis said. "We want to know what (the students) care about and why they care about it."
She added that the previous year the discussion had had a very successful topic, but that there wasn't really anything happening this year that students seemed to feel strongly about.
"Last year our SW was about the Don't Ask/Don't Tell repeal, since it was a topic that almost everyone on campus knew about and cared about," she said. "But this year there was nothing that dynamic going on, so we were struggling to pick a theme for our discussion."
Emily Baugus, a 20-year-old junior construction and engineering management major from Kingsville, Texas is the vice-chair of the CAB and was also part of the SW discussion team.
"Normally every year we (in the CAB office) get together with other offices or faculty and brainstorm ideas for SW," she said. "We try to bring in a guest speaker if we can and get people excited about what's going on around them, and last year a lot of students attended."
However, according to Gail Mears, the coordinator of the Substance Abuse and Prevention office on campus, there were only about 28 attendees at this year's discussion.
"There were other events on campus that were also a part of SW," she said. "And a lot of people knew about those and attended, but we didn't have half as many people that we were hoping for at the discussion."
Mears' reasoning for this is simple: better advertisement would have made a considerable difference.
"I think students were unclear about what the student discussion was about," she said. "Because it was difficult for us to formulate how we wanted to handle the discussion this time our advertising was rushed and not as through as we wanted."
In addition, Mears had tried to do two additional forms of advertising that didn't happen.
"We tried to get students to go around campus handing out flyers that explained SW, as well as verbally explaining it to other students," she said. "But the student in charge of that didn't make it happen, so we had to rely mostly on word-of-mouth to make the discussion known."
The other advertising ploy that failed was getting the event covered early by the Guidon.
"(A reporter) from the Guidon was supposed to cover the discussion in advance, even if it wasn't a full-sized article," she said "but that didn't happen. It was unfortunate because I think that really would have helped us out."
Emily Hayward, a 21-year-old junior international studies major from Wells, Maine, agreed that a lack of advertising hurt.
"I would have loved to attend the SW discussion," she said. "The idea of having a safe environment to speak out in, where I'll actually be heard, is really appealing to me. But I didn't know about it until a friend told me a week after it happened."
Annis also concurred that the advertising wasn't as well done as possible, and is already brainstorming ways to make it better next year.
"We did have some signs up around campus that had all the information about the discussion and SW on them, but it simply wasn't enough," she said. "Next year we need to get the information out to everyone sooner and faster. We're going to put up posters and hand out flyers, or whatever we choose to do, about a month in advance next time instead of two weeks."
Regardless of the low attendance rate to the discussion, Mears was full of praise for the students that did join in.
"I feel like they were articulate, well thought-out in their viewpoints, courageous and committed to their beliefs," she said. "I can't wait to see how the attendees make things evolve next year in the discussion."
Mears felt pride in knowing that the different lifestyles NU students follow were all able to voice their opinions on the issues brought up during the discussion.
"It gives me a sense of pride," she said, "to know that students from each of the NU lifestyles, including commuters and even some freshman corps members, were able to speak out without fear of ridicule or of being told they're wrong or (unintelligent) when speaking out about an issue."
Baugus elucidated what some of the issues Mears mentioned were.
"SW is about talking about the things students don't always want to say or that they wouldn't always feel comfortable saying to just anyone," she said. "This means they brought up issues ranging from sexual preferences to (cafeteria) food. The issues weren't always huge, but they all mattered to the students."
Mears added that, while having an open-topic discussion was interesting and showed more diversity, she would prefer to stick to one topic next year.
"I liked how the discussion went this year," she said, "but since the discussion is supposed to be one of the biggest SW events, and it wasn't, I would rather it be on one hot topic that students can focus on and know more about ahead of time. Then it's also easier for us to organize and (plan activities) around."
While the SW discussion may have been a bit unorganized, Annis "can't wait for next year's discussion."
"SW, the activities and the discussion are all really great things," she said. "I like seeing students involved with speaking out about issues that they're not always comfortable with."
Annis added that, since the discussion was video taped, any issues brought up could be referenced in the future.
"We recorded the whole (discussion) so now we can use this if we ever need to go to the school administration and say 'Look, this is an issue'," she said. "It also allows us to share it with the community or the students who didn't attend because these are (issues) current college students care about."
In addition to having events centering on NU students, Hayward suggested that, since SW is about diversity, other students from the local middle and high school be incorporated.
"Younger kids are future college students," she said. "So why not involve them too? SW is about diversity and community, so maybe Norwich students could do activities with them that can broaden their horizons."
Hayward suggested one particular way that the children could be amalgamated into SW.
"I know that there's already some programs on campus that center around college students working with kids," she said, "but if we could do something like teach them about other cultures or get them introduced to a new language during SW then that could really be a positive influence on both them and us as different parts of a whole community."
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