Student voices matter

In a system where wealth, privilege and power are concentrated in the hands of less than one percent of the population, the true “American Dream” is to join their ranks and to have that job which provides oneself with money, influence and status.

The dream now is the elite, the best of the best, the top of the pyramid. In our struggle to reach the top, we fail to see that there must be a base to support it, that those individuals on whose backs we stand will never, and can never, be allowed to participate equally in our system. For this reason, rules were created which governed who was allowed to “rise” to the upper class and control those below them. Under the premise of “all men created equal,” U.S. competitive meritocracy hands control of government, industry and religion, to the best of the best. However, for control to remain in the top one percent where all are “equally” capable of control, lines are drawn between those in power and those who aren’t, allowing those in power to pass control only to those they determine will preserve the existing power structure.

For many years, race and gender were used as reasons to keep elite white males in power; now this task has fallen onto socioeconomic status and education. It is education’s role to preserve the power structure rather than transform it and to train those who can afford to attain high education to enforce meritocracy. In a country where we are spoon-fed the illusions of equality and participatory democracy, we write these words to address the power relations in higher education.

We now hold our educational system and educators accountable to live up to the ideals they profess. And we challenge ourselves to make new demands and set new standards in student involvement through participatory citizenry and social justice. We cannot allow ourselves to be passive, accepting the roles society has determined for us. We will not allow the U.S. system and education to structure our minds and beliefs blindly. We can no longer accept what society has determined for us, but must actively create a new model, a truly participatory democracy.

The roles of the university in the 21st century are to strengthen the success of students by sustaining academic momentum, striving for excellence in academic quality and creating a richly diverse and multicultural environment. Universities will accomplish this by enhancing campus facilities, enriching the student experience and expanding the university’s outreach and public engagements.

The faculty and staff are to be learner-centered. The student will be served through a core mission to discover, interpret, apply and transmit knowledge by providing access with the opportunity to succeed. Intellectual and creative freedom is encouraged through open expression of ideas that support the advanced learning process, and the university must be willing to work collegially and collaboratively toward a common goal.

Unfortunately, adhering to these university values becomes difficult when the power structure within a university community is unbalanced. The university is supposed to be learner-centered, and yet the students – the learners – often have the least amount of power or representation on a campus.

At Northern Kentucky University, the faculty has a senate of 35 voting members; the students have a senate of only 30 voting members. The Student Government Association does not have any committees focused on the curriculum while the Faculty Senate has a committee expressly for the purpose of determining the curriculum. In a learner-centered environment, shouldn’t the learner be more involved in the decision of what will be taught?

Even though many of the core values are being practiced at NKU, there are several that fall short. We want to bring these shortcomings to the attention of the university community and determine if these core values are really working in favor of a balanced power structure. The following four points contain excerpts from the NKU Core Values Statement:

* Access with the Opportunity to Succeed

“We are committed to lifelong public access to education and expert knowledge and to opportunity to succeed…”

* Intellectual and Creative Freedom

“We are committed to the intellectual and creative freedom and the open expression of ideas in a way that supports scholarship and the advanced learning process.”

* Multiculturalism

“We are committed to advancing multicultural understanding within both the university and the community as an educational and civic priority.”

* Collegiality and Collaboration

“We are committed to building a university community characterized by open communication and shared responsibility for decisions. We will build a culture of collegiality and collaboration with-in and between the university and the public we serve.”

We, as students, feel that NKU weakens the learner’s ability to achieve excellence because multiculturalism is not fully embraced, and learners feel distant in the growth and developmental process of the university. Without embracing or enhancing one’s culture, the learner cannot successfully experience and contribute to intellectual and creative freedom, or collegiality and collaboration. For example, NKU’s lack of international student scholarships and grants forces learners of international and minority status to feel that this university doesn’t provide access to the opportunity to succeed. When students’ voices are not valued enough to make institutional decisions, learner-centered teaching is not possible.

An environment that rids one of dignity and culture is not suitable for innovation of creativity. The community should have the opportunity to engage and contribute to the growth of the university, enhancing our commitment to public engagement.

Now is the time for us as students to take back the rights that we’ve been denied. We have stated our grievances. The great movement to right these wrongs may begin with the students and be extended by the administration. It is up to you, to us, to show them that we will not be silenced, that we will not roll over, and we will not just go away.

It is up to the students to fight for their own voice. The university administration has been thrown into a state of paralysis by those that pay their bills. We know that those in power are keeping this university up and running, but where would it be if no one was coming to school, paying a tuition, contributing to the continuity of this academic environment? This is a chance, an opportunity to enact drastic change.

This is in their face now, and it is on your shoulders to see that the movement doesn’t die out. Keep things going. This is your chance to stand up and really impact the course of your life, not by supporting those above us in the pyramid, but by shaking the base so that the pyramid may eventually crumble. You are in control of which direction things lead from this moment on.

Don’t blow it.

Abby Cunningham, Tom Cunningham, Brad Davis, Desera Favors, Mat Games, Tim Kennedy, Becky Kilby, Christina Martinez, Sharon Smith, Jeff Snyder