Bryn Mawr students need established space for dialogue and discussion
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

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It is not uncommon for students at Bryn Mawr to comment on dining hall food, on issues raised in the College News or the Bi-Co News, on overstuffed freezers in dorm kitchens, or on current student government issues. It seems, in effect, that Mawrters are never at a real loss for words.

That is all the more reason why Bryn Mawr should have a student comment board.

Over the past year, student-organized and student-initiated discussions have attested to Mawrters’ concerns about social issues on campus. Last fall student leaders from the campus cultural groups sponsored several forums on race, and this fall, students from the same groups wrote letters to President Nancy Vickers in order to convey their views on her “Plan for the New Century.” There are the College Republicans and College Democrats, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International. In short, there is no lack of opinion or concern on campus - only a lack of a permanent public forum to encourage student voices.

Like the Comment Board at Haverford, a Bryn Mawr comment board would render it possible for students to start or, more significantly, continue discussion on any topic. Too often, a community forum concludes its dialogue, or private conversations come to a homework-induced end, before students have the chance to explore different perspectives or to range over a large number of ideas.

In having a comment board, students at Bryn Mawr would have the opportunity to extend, broaden and deepen the discussion. Questions that remain unanswered at the end of a forum, for example, could receive more responses on the board than any one-time event could permit. At Haverford, the Comment Board has continued to fan the flames ignited by The Incontinent Donkey.

It is not just widening controversy for which a Bryn Mawr comment board would allow. A comment board also would encourage students to further discussion otherwise limited by time and protocol at formal meetings.

In contrast, apart from the general guidelines required by the Honor Code - having students sign their full name and year on all postings - there are few limitations placed upon comment board materials. As a result the postings on the Haverford board include not just letters to the community, but also proposals, clipped articles and anything that could provoke conversation. It is certain that, given what Mawrters sometimes tack onto the napkin boards in the dining halls, any comment board at Bryn Mawr would become covered with the same diversity of expression.

With the suggestion that Bryn Mawr assign a space for a comment board, it is important to consider two concerns: first, who should establish a comment board; and second, where the school could place such a forum. The board itself should be established by an order from the SGA in order to secure it as a permanent feature of campus life. Responsibility for maintaining the board, in the form of taking down comments and enforcing Honor Code guidelines, could fall to either the SGA or the Honor Board.

If Bryn Mawr stipulates that students sign the postings with not just their name and year but also the date of posting, regulating the board would be a simple task. Items could remain posted for just a certain amount of time. After that given period, the appointed SGA member would remove the postings and, as at Haverford, create and maintain a space for them in the SGA records.

The question of just where Bryn Mawr students could create a comment board is not a simple one. As students reminded the director of Conferences and Events at an SGA meeting last semester, there is limited posting space on campus. A community forum as consequential and central as a comment board, however, deserves special consideration. It is preferable to place the board where it would be most accessible - on the first floor of the campus center, which it would be most accessible.

Selecting a location for the board could require much discussion and planning: The SGA would need to work toward community consensus on the organization and placement of the board. There are always such complicating factors, and reasonable excuses, for postponing or avoiding the establishment of a comment board at Bryn Mawr. Yet, the potential social and intellectual benefits of having such a space far outweigh the time considerations for its creation and maintenance.

The best time to create a space for public thought, valuable and worthwhile, is now.

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