Blackburn College has taken some hits to their finances, staff turnover, retention and reputation over the past few years, and us students are the ones suffering the consequences. When I first came to Blackburn, I remember hearing the phrase, “You get out what you put into it” during every orientation event. When students complain about the way the campus is run, a common response from professional staff is that students don’t speak up. We are supposed to advocate for ourselves and tell the administration what we want. We have to make the first step.
I’m sorry, but that’s not cutting it anymore. Students have spoken up: we’ve had town halls, reported conduct, asked for help. We have taken that first step, and we’ve taken the second and third steps. The administration is now in a position where they need to prove to us that we can trust them to hear us. They need to prove to us that they actually value and believe what we tell them. They have town halls, and they send out surveys, but they don’t make substantive changes on the issues we address.
Students beg for and demand equity and inclusion at this school, and so we get thrown some task force and a few committees. What we need is to see results from these task forces through policy changes, new initiatives, new positions, new departments. We need change, and we need it sooner rather than later. Diversity and inclusion permeate into every other aspect of the shortcomings on campus, and that’s been acknowledged in town halls for the past few years, we just have seen more excuses as to why it’s a hard thing to change instead of what the administration is going to do about it.
Blackburn prides itself on being affordable, but they don’t put enough resources into the financial aid department to make sure students get the attention they need on their financial aid packages. They can’t staff the office well enough to keep track of paperwork, so it’s not hard to see how that leads to a lack of effort and attention on each individual student, and how several students fall through the cracks.
Professor evaluations are a nice gesture, but they actually mean nothing if the professors don’t listen to the feedback. I know not all faculty members ignore their evaluations, but the fact that even one professor disregards student evaluations of their performance shows a serious disrespect for the students they are here to serve. The fact that these professors are not held accountable for disregarding their students by the administration is another slap in the face to the students.
To go beyond disregarding students, some students report being treated differently because of how they look or who they are. These cases often go unreported because recent administrations have demonstrated that they don’t want to listen to these stories. Students who do report end up being dismissed as uncredible, or they are told there’s nothing the administration can do to help.
The work program is Blackburn’s pride and joy, but that’s another system with flaws that staff and administration refuse to address. There is a significant level of favoritism in leadership roles in the work program. Students of color are overrepresented in the operational departments, leading to a lack of diversity in every work department. There is a lack of training, consistency, and communication between departments and between the students and their supervisors. Students in their work departments are silenced on issues that matter because they’re supposed to always represent their departments in a positive light without being held accountable for living up to that image. We can’t get better if we don’t acknowledge our flaws.
This isn’t a problem of an individual department or office on campus. This is a problem of priorities and culture. The administration of this college talks a big game about how the school would fall apart if the students stopped showing up to work, but they don’t live that truth. If the professors stop showing up, we hire new professors. If a large portion of the staff quits, the students in the work program pick up the slack of the missing staff. We’ve gone through five presidents, interim or otherwise, in my four years here, and we still keep chugging along. There’s no scenario in which we lose a large number of students and this college stays standing, yet we are the ones paying to be here. We are the ones sleeping in these buildings and eating this food. We are waking up here and working here, yet we are the ones being ignored.
While to some it seems like students are “just complaining,” they need to remember that our complaints are the most well-informed complaints of anybody on this campus. To faculty, staff and the administration, this is a job. They get paid to be here, then they get to go home at the end of the day. To the students, this is our future. We are paying to be here, we live here, and we work here.
So next time you think about ignoring a student’s “complaining,” remember that we are the reason you are here. Remember this the next time you want to send an email asking us to play admissions counselors for you. Remember this the next time you want to have closed-door conversations about how “we just don’t see the whole picture.” This is our future. We see more of the picture than you’ll ever imagine.