Covenant held its first Town Hall Meeting in chapel, Monday, Nov. 7., opening the floor for students to ask questions addressed by President Halvorson.
In preparation for the event, Student Senate collected questions from the student body prior to the meeting. Forty-three questions were submitted in advance, and roughly nineteen questions were asked during the actual 30-minute meeting. Of those nineteen questions, some of the raised topics include women and the Board of Trustees, increasing security on campus, tobacco and the Standards of Conduct, sports and the Sabbath, and “ninja’s or pineapples.”
The town hall meeting began as an idea that came from a Covenant cabinet meeting and was picked up as a collaborative effort of planning between the President’s Office and the Chapel Department. Once the two departments decided on a date, Student Senate helped by soliciting questions.
Other schools such as Wheaton already hold frequent town hall meetings as a venue for students to openly ask questions directly to student administration. The idea behind Covenant’s first Town Hall Meeting has a similar purpose.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to talk directly with the student body, and for students to be able to ask me any question they wanted,” Halvorson said.
“Granted, other administrators may be able to answer some questions about issues within their scope of responsibility in more detail than I can—such as meal plans—and I think it's good and important for those conversations to take place as well, but at the same time, as president, I want to be intentional about engaging directly with students in a variety of ways, whether it be in the Great Hall, in a class, in the gym, or in chapel. This is one forum for hearing what concerns and ideas students have, and I really enjoyed it and appreciated the thoughtfulness evident in some of the questions. I hope to do it again.”
The Town Hall Meeting was not the only chance for questions to be answered. Conversations can begin between students and student administration at any time. Covenant’s administrators welcome meetings with students to discuss questions or concerns, all students need to do is reach out to them.
In the case that students feel they have been aggrieved, grievance forms are available on Covenant’s website for students (or employees) to report those situations, either relating to academic affairs, another student, an employee, or institutional reasons. Except for the student grievance form which has a specific procedure for reporting grievances, the appropriate department reviewing the complaint will then provide the student with a response.
However, Dean of Students Brad Voyles says that for those who are seeking to better understand a policy or suggest an idea, like the questions asked in the meeting, he does not recommend the grievance form as an avenue for those concerns. He and other administrators who have purview are always available to meet and converse with students.
Halvorson also suggested another way students can be heard is by talking with their Student Senators who represent the student body. In addition, he says, “Students are welcome and encouraged to contact faculty or staff members or administrators with questions, concerns, or suggestions,” echoing Dean Voyles’ invitation.
On the overall outcome of the first town hall meeting, Dean Voyles said, “It seemed to resonate well.” Several students gave feedback on the meeting, including Student Body President Jonathan Kelly, who said, "I think the town hall meeting went very well. It's such a blessing to have an administration that's so open to student's questions and concerns so it was great to get to see that transparency in front of the entire student body."
Others also gave feedback with suggestions of improvement for future town hall meetings. Senior Class President Jonah Anderson (17’) said, “I really like the idea of the town hall and I think for its being the first event it was a good kickstart, but I think it could have been organized better and I think if Halvorson didn’t do an open mic I would have appreciated it a lot more.”
Abby Irwin (18’) suggested a panel of several administrators in addition to President Halvorson, while Lydia Berglar (‘18) said, “I was extremely pleased they offered us the chance to have the meeting. However, I was disappointed by some students’ misuse of the opportunity and I think that in the future more thoughtful questions will be helpful for the college community.”
The first successful Town Hall Meeting is hopefully not Covenant’s last.