Town Hall Meetings
March 2012: “Town Hall Conversations;” Dialogue with De Paul University and City of Chicago Cultural Planning Committee
by RJ Molyneux-Davis
Acrylic on Canvas, February 2012
Modern Democracy: Observations of Neighborhood
Conversations at SAIC
“Meetings like this should be included in the curriculum as a required activity,” suggested the Finance and Economic senior from De Paul.
Town Hall Conversation. April 2, 2012. The email went out to the entire student body, faculty, and staff, and we had to reserve places on the roster. When I arrived, my name was checked off a very short list. Everyone: students, staff and administrators could have filled a single table at De Paul.
Because of the title, I thought it would be an extension of the Town Hall, Chicago-wide conversations I attended at De Paul.
SAIC Town Hall Conversation was, well, just about SAIC with only SAIC faculty and staff (the majority of the attendees) and students. Only five students, to be exact, and at least two of us were there because we were fulfilling an assignment. The third was proctoring the meeting, and one was "The Overlord," who seems to be omniscient and omni-present. A bit like God.
Confrontation and change. How does a community resolve issues? Is it useful to bring specific concerns to the table without offering potential solutions?
Transparency and trust seemed to be the popular themes.
“Why can’t students access the budget so they can see where the funds are allocated in order to identify potential injustices,” one student asks?
“It would be like comparing apples and oranges,” the suit without a tie responds, adding that it would take several hours of training to even begin to understand the allocation of funds.
And it would. I wouldn’t, for a second, want to demand that the MAAE program receive the same budget as the architectural design or film programs. Ludicrous. We don’t need the same equipment or space.
"Where do you think we are wasting money," the suit asks?
“I don’t want to pay for the mandatory meal plan,” a student responds.
"Did he even hear the question," I can't help but wonder? “Simple solution, really: choose to live off campus and cook your own food,” I inwardly reply. Good thing my raised hand was ignored.
“We like to provide a guarantee that students will have access to healthy alternatives rather than grabbing a three-day old hot dog off the rollers at 7-11 and wash it down with a Big Gulp,” another suit responds.
I quietly chuckle, knowing that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and knew that as soon as I hit my door later this evening, even though I do have access to a full kitchen, that I would slam the last contents of a week-old shaved turkey package between a single, folded-over slice of bread. Isn’t that the life of a single college student?
“I agree,” another student notes. “Why can’t we choose to cook our own food?”
“Aren’t we fostering an atmosphere which encourages students not to learn how to be independent,” the first student adds?
“Perhaps, but you choose to live in the dorms,” I think to myself. “You aren’t FORCED to live there. Some campuses require all students to live in the dorms their freshman year, and you all are grad students, old enough and capable enough to sign your own leases.”
Another suit takes a far more diplomatic, humorous approach: “We don’t for a moment wish you to do what I did and not have to fend for yourselves until you are 25. We encourage students to seek out roommates and split the cost of off-campus housing where you can also share responsibilities.”
My recent attempt at frying bacon comes to mind in which I set off the newly installed fire alarm system in my high-rise tower. “How often,” I can’t help but wonder, “would the Chicago Fire Department be called to the dorms if the students were allowed to cook for themselves?” I see fire trucks responding to my area (not all of them are when I decide to fix bacon, thank you very much) at least once a week.
"What about a gym," adds the same student concerned with required meal plans?
The very hoarse suit whispers a response that only God can hear. I pick up the word "Community" and "together," and add, "I'm glad the Institute has responded to the needs of building our community and look forward to enjoying the Student Union that will be opening in May." The other suits nod in agreement, and add that they hope to see me at the dedication. I assure them I will be there.
Change is, indeed, difficult within a community. In a Democratic process, do we sometimes get so lost whining, expressing our own "voice" that we forget that we are instrumental parts of implementing change? Do we really expect our leaders to make every decision for us in the same way that we rely upon them for food and shelter? Why haven't we taken enough responsibility upon ourselves to decorate our own corridors as senior action projects, a study in space that we enact not upon some needy organization as an activist role in an external community that needs "saved" but act upon our own space, contributing to the well-being of our own Institution? Must we be so "active" in our extended community that we refuse to be proactive within our own space?
Making decisions. At De Paul, the Town Hall Conversation created an interactive dialogue between Chicago city planners and students, addressing community-wide concerns about how to involve students in Chicago’s artistic scene, and we are whining about whether or not we are allowed to cook our own food and whether or not our “gifted artists” can afford to attend the next NEAE meeting in New York while De Paul students were wondering whether or not they could afford the next train ride to the Loop.