Tossing the challenge flag in the field of University policy

Arman Asemani

I emailed more than 50 students, all friends of mine, with a simple survey. I asked them to tell me a problem they once had with University policy, and what they did to overcome the issue. 

One friend replied. 

Am I the only person with a problem here? I guess that would make me the problem here. I considered those options, and then threw them out once I started feeling terrible about myself. And in that moment of retrospect, I realized the true problem at hand, the second half of my email.

Obviously every student at the University has some complaint, and not all grievances are equal. But few students have channeled their frustration into action and change. I have to say “I refuse to take no for an answer” is an understatement. I might need to accept denial more often.

When the Center for Multicultural Affairs referred to its members as “at-risk students,”I stopped using its services, even the free tutoring. When Residence Life allowed my apartment mates to vote me out of a West Campus apartment without my consent or even notifying me that I was moved, I demanded an explanation. 

When Residence Life then punished me for the actions of someone I did not choose to live with, I wrote a letter and sent it to each email address I could find on the office’s website. 

When the Office of Undergraduate Services denied me internship credit, I took my matter to the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

When Public Safety gave me three parking tickets for the detestable crime of being on campus before 4 p.m. with an Evening Division parking permit, I could have appealed the tickets online. 

Instead I sent out an e-mail to fifty of my friends and started writing this article.

I pick many fights. I win most. But I never feel great about it. Rewards such as not being arbitrarily labeled “at-risk,” choosing where I live, earning credits for an internship and simply being welcome on campus during business hours are by no means prizes to be celebrated. 

A University is not supposed to challenge students, but rather support them in challenging themselves. 

Yet it is hard enough for a student to get time on a director’s calendar let alone convince him or her to approve a student’s untraditional request or waive a nonsensical policy violation. Because when exceptions are granted, policies fail. 

University leaders agree on the ideal image of a student, multiply that stereotype by the masses, and create a matrix of guidelines which would accommodate a campus full of such students most effectively. Those students never need exceptions, because they are the standard. Students with requests suddenly become different and often difficult students, with different and often difficult college experiences than their standard male or female classmates. 

But classifying an average student and developing policies geared to that type of individual is far too similar to the way television networks classify their average viewer’s age, income, gender and ethnicity to direct advertisements to their standard viewer. Notice the predatory lending commercials on BET but never on the Golf Channel or the countless erectile dysfunction commercials on the Golf Channel but rarely on BET? 

Accommodating the masses leaves some students stranded, wondering what their value is to a community which thinks it is homogeneous and asking themselves the same question television viewers ponder when noticing that advertisements on a program are not geared towards them, “Why am I here?”

Exceptions are made for exceptional students. However, too often students confide in and complain to their peers rather than confront the decision maker who can solve their problems because it is humiliating for a student to expose himself or herself as anything other than the standard. 

But what if these two great opportunities were brought together? On one side of the Venn diagram is peer-to-peer trust and understanding. On the other side is administrative accountability and action. In the center is a team of University students, who community members can call on to listen to, reason and represent their frustrations. Consider it a jury of our peers. These leaders will stand behind students as the students stand up for themselves. 

I want to assemble this team. If you are interested in being a student representative, please use my contact information at the end of this article to reach out.The University generated over $486 million in revenue in fiscal year 2011-2012, which is the most recent information published online. With $349 million of that income coming from tuition and fees, students certainly have some purchasing power. Money talks and it is time to be heard. 

Every student is valuable, no exceptions.