About a month ago, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska hosted a Student Leadership Summit. We called upon a diverse range of student-leaders to share their experiences as Huskers, both positive and negative. We discussed four topics:
1. Mental health: How are Huskers doing, and how can we help those who are struggling?
2. Civility, criticism and inclusivity: How do we hear one another despite our differences?
3. Combating campus apathy: How do we build a community that cares?
4. Sexual misconduct: How do we foster a safer and more responsible environment?
Throughout our conversations, we gathered plenty of information summarizing the concerns and issues students are facing. Some of the responses were encouraging, some were concerning, but all were valid and demand attention.
The intention of the summit was threefold: we wanted to hear blunt opinions from fellow students and amplify them, connect change-makers from across campus and enable them to act. We hope this letter fulfills this same mission in a different form.
The truth is, anyone reading this can be involved in the solutions our campus needs. We each can work to address the following problems in our respective communities; go to the leaders of your student organizations and voice your opinions, email an administrator and ask to meet or write a letter similar to this. We realize students often feel that student governments are replete with promises made and broken. But we want this to be different. The future of student-led solutions can’t be promises made from places of power — they must be promises made to each other. That leads to an overarching fifth question: How can we work together to solve these problems?
The largest theme we observed from our mental health discussions was a surprising one. There’s a cliche about how the collegiate atmosphere weighs on students. Popular culture paints a picture of students drowning in academic work but surrounded by a social support network that makes the academic rigor tolerable.
This is not what students had to say. The most common challenges Huskers face are with finding a home here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Students expressed concerns about the difficulty for many Huskers, especially nontraditional ones, to acclimate and find their niche. “Making friends is a stressor, I struggled making friends and a lot of people struggle with inclusivity,” one student said.
Over the past few years, ASUN has worked to address inadequacies in mental health resources on campus. Most recently, ASUN approved an increased fee allocation to Counseling and Psychological Services, which has led to unlimited counseling visits for students. However, the solution to a growing mental health crisis can’t be limited to clinical solutions. Let’s care for one another and lessen the social barriers inhibiting our peers from finding their place on campus. Don’t let your fellow Huskers eat alone. Work within reason to open the gates of your organizations and branch out from your comfort zone. We’re in this together.
Our campus has dealt with many recent challenges involving free expression and civility. Students have been on the front end of confronting these challenges. In our conversations at the summit, students shared concerns about how our campus has approached this area. Some felt initiatives surrounding civil discourse and diversity were far too reactive, rather than proactive.
We think the steps from reactivity to proactiveness are small ones. For example, have a conversation with someone you disagree with. This year, we launched our Converge Nebraska program, which pairs individuals with opposing political views together for a conversation.
Some students at the summit said conversations around civil discourse don’t have to be big and complicated. While Converge may focus on bigger questions, we agree civility should be lived out in every conversation we have and action we take. We hope every Husker approaches their four years with the expectation of understanding their peers, rather than persuading them.
The eighty students at the summit represented over forty different organizations on campus. Every student there has fought the uphill battles of getting students to their events, recruiting new members and spreading their messages to a broad audience. We sensed a universal agreement that it’s incredibly difficult for groups on campus to communicate widely with dissimilar students. It is our opinion that many channels for student engagement are overly burdensome and dense with red tape. Whether it’s restrictions on room reservations or a lack of centralized communication channels, our university community must work to make non-academic involvement as accessible as possible.
ASUN is working on a program that will allow organizations to shout announcements from the balcony of the Union using the plaza’s sound system. The town crier initiative will apply the same logic of Greek house announcements to a campus-wide program. Keep your eyes peeled for the rollout of this program, and don’t be afraid to yell “Hear ye, hear ye.”
On the topic of sexual assault, conversations among students at the summit were heavy and honest. The stories shared during this part of the summit showed a lack of education on the topic of sexual misconduct on all levels. Some expressed deep concern over what they see as a resource gap between Greek and non-Greek students. While all students receive mandatory sexual assault and bystander training, some students perceive the Greek population as receiving far more attention. We’re hopeful, and will advocate, that university administrators close this resource gap and ensure all students broach the topic of sexual misconduct more frequently.
On the topic of mandatory training, every student agreed training videos are well-intentioned, yet depersonalized and unengaging. ASUN is currently working on programming that makes conversations surrounding sexual misconduct more approachable. However, it’s imperative every student acknowledges their responsibility in driving the dialogue around sexual misconduct. To borrow from the national campaign, it’s on us to build a safer and more responsible campus environment.
If any of these issues jump out, know that you can make a difference. The needle will not move on any of these issues from the sole pressure of any one organization. Look at the communities you’re a member of, identify a problem and take the first step toward a solution. ASUN will continue addressing these issues, and we invite any individual or organization to join us in collaboration. Grander than that, we invite our campus community to join us in an attitude of passion and urgency.
Hunter Traynor, ASUN president
Emily Johnson, ASUN internal vice president
Jeffrey Owusu-Ansah, ASUN external vice president