Democratize UConn through dialogue 

UConn is a college that holds students and faculty from many backgrounds. Programs like the Democracy and Dialogues Initiative serve to provide those associated with UConn with a space to engage in discussions on what it considers to be “critical issues.” Photo by Izzi Barton/The Daily Campus.

Headed by Professor Brendan Kane, the Democracy and Dialogues Initiative serves as a program under Dodd Human Rights Impact aimed at providing students, faculty and local members of the community a space to engage in discussions on “critical issues.” The Encounters Series, a subset of the initiative, facilitates moderated dialogues around “divisive issues and obscure knowledge” that connects University of Connecticut faculty with partnered organizations and individuals local to the Greater Hartford area. Topics such as women’s suffrage, Black and Indigenous history and sustainability have been explored through D&D, with additional programs offered for facilitator training that allows participating members to establish counterpart programs in their respective communities.  

Programs such as these pose a vital question pertinent to the past two weeks of actions regarding campus activism and student distrust of the administration and student government: How can students better utilize dialogue to help truncate the disconnect between the student and administrative bodies?  

The Daily Campus Editorial Board applauds any program which may increase the frequency of discussions surrounding events and ideologies relating to the UConn and broader Connecticut community; yet, despite the D&D initiative’s strides to establish a medium for faculty members to engage with members of the Connecticut community, no such enterprise exists for members of the student body to engage with the administration.  

Virtual Town Hall meetings offer students some opportunities to ask questions and raise concerns directly to members of the administration. Similarly, board of trustees’ meetings begin with an open comments portion, though individuals who wish to speak must sign up prior to the meeting date, spaces for which are often limited to only a few speakers. Neither offer a sufficient opportunity  for students to receive answers to concerns or questions raised about the operations of the university or their wellbeing.  

Looking to the D&D Initiative as inspiration, a few solutions present themselves. First, given that these dialogues center themselves around contentious issues, addressing student issues such as financial aid, food insecurity and rising costs of attendance all seem like valuable topics of discussion for future programming. However, the reach of dialogues on issues such as these must extend beyond faculty and community members.  

We believe a step beyond this is also necessary, in the form of ‘reverse’ town halls. Rather than permitting students a monthly, virtual meeting with administrators, students should host the same event under their own guidance. Moderated by leaders of student organizations — in years past, The Daily Campus’ editor-in-chief moderated debates for student elections — and fellow members of the student body, questions could be posed directly to the administration via representation from President Radenka Maric or board of trustees chairman Dan Toscano. Only then can students confidently say that their questions are met with honest and immediate responses from those responsible for the objects of their concern.  

In 2020, a coalition of students and organizers on campus called the UConn Defund and Divestment Project hosted a “reverse town hall” calling for a “shared UConn” where decisions are made by students, workers and faculty. Although no administrators attended, events like these present invaluable opportunities for community building and democratic planning among many organizations on campus. 

If the administration and those in power want to earn the respect and trust of the student body, participation in student and community-organized events such as these could provide a long overdue opportunity to heal the financial and other wounds inflicted upon the student body by tuition hikes, burdensome price tags on housing and meal plans, needless expansion and frivolous spending

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