Fr. Curran emphasizes diversity and inclusion at Town Hall event

Different administration officials touched on the latest Rockhurst news.

Ryan Crawford, Staff Writer

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Rockhurst University’s Student Senate holds a “Town Hall” event each semester, at which university leaders and administrators speak to students about various at topics surrounding Rockhurst. This year’s Town Hall was held Tuesday afternoon in the Massman Gallery.

The Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J. was the keynote speaker at the event, as he usually is. Fr. Curran spoke a majority of his time on diversity and inclusion. The university is undertaking an 18-month program to help them better understand the “campus climate,” or to see how students of varying backgrounds feel “at home” on Rockhurst’s campus, Fr. Curran said.

“One of the things that we want to do is ultimately set up an Office of Inclusivity,” Fr. Curran said. “But before we do that, we want this (program) to be thoughtful, we want this to be intentional and we want this to be very data-driven. In order to do that, we need to bring folks in that can really help us to think thoughtfully and reflectively.

In our whole efforts, I think that the most important thing to keep in find mind is that I think we can see this as a project, or as an effort or as a program. … We want this to be our ‘way of proceeding.'”

To help with this endeavor, the university is working with a third-party to help collect data on how students feel across the campus. To do this, they are partnering with Rankin and Associates, an independent consulting firm based out of Howard, Pennsylvania. Dr. Sue Rankin is spearheading the project at Rockhurst.

Dr. Rankin, who has completed 179 similar consultations and has a deep background in higher education (including 30-plus years at Penn State University), spoke at the Town Hall as well. Phase one of the “project,” according to Dr. Rankin involves focus groups. These focus groups will consist of students, faculty and staff, and their role will be to help develop questions that will be put on a survey sent to the campus in October later this year.

“Your foundation (at Rockhurst) is built on people coming here because they want to belong,” Dr. Rankin noted. “Your job as students is to help them feel that way.” She also noted the importance of having an outside group complete this study because of bias to the institution. “I have no invested interest in the outcome. I could not do this at Penn State.”

Senior Rockhurst administration officials won’t see the results of surveys, which is phase two of the study, until the same time as the student body does. After the study has been completed, Dr. Rankin and her team will work side-by-side with the administration to help implement strategies to help Rockhurst become more inclusive. Those strategies will be based on the data collected.

Free laundry, Rock Row and more

After Fr. Curran and Dr. Rankin spoke, other campus officials addressed the student body. Emily Kempf, Assistant Director of Residence Life, commented on new laundry machines that will be brought in over the summer for the 2017-18 school year. There will be an upfront cost to do laundry in the residence halls and Town House Village community center, but instead of paying quarters each time students do laundry, the cost will be built into the living costs on campus. Additionally, a mobile app will be available for students to download to see what machines are available and how much time is left before their laundry is done.

Matt Heinrich, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Technology, addressed future expansion of Rock Row along Forest Avenue south of campus. The university owns six lots along the street, and the first step toward expansion is clearing those lots. “One of the things we talk about is the mix of styles,” Heinrich noted. “We have a lot of traditional residence hall-style space. … we do not think standalone houses fit in that mix.”

Heinrich spoke to the importance of working with the surrounding communities and neighborhood to develop housing that fits the style of the neighborhood but cautioned that the university avoid creating an exact copy of Rock Row. The addition will be “something similar to Rock Row.” “We won’t make them exactly the same. Some of the feedback we got from the neighborhood was if you build the same types of things all the way down the neighborhood, then you become the neighborhood, as opposed to blending in.”

Heinrich said that they will take their time with this project and hope to not have it rushed like the original building of Rock Row. The earliest expected completion date would be the fall of 2018, but that is merely an estimation. There is nothing set in stone as of right now.

The Student Senate also announced that they are taking suggestions from students concerning potential newspaper providers on Rockhurst’s campus. The USA TodayWall Street Journal and New York Times are all being considered.

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