Every student has different needs. Depending on where you’re from, how much money your family makes, your race and countless other factors, you probably find that certain departments at Seattle University are better suited than others to make you feel at home.
But with the announcement of a complete reorganization of the Division of Student Development, this may not be the case for long. While some faculty and students feel that the merging together of departments and physical moving of office spaces will improve student life, others see it as a destructive change that will take away a sense of comfort from campus.
It’s been over a decade since any major changes have been made to the division, and in that time, Seattle U’s student population has diversified in almost every way imaginable. Each year brings in more students of color, more international students, more veterans and more students from families with low incomes.
After years of considering adjustments to various departments to keep up with the changing face of the student body, administration has decided on a complete realignment of the division. Goals for the reorganization include increasing student retention rates, boosting on-time graduation and emphasizing the “No Wrong Door Policy,” the idea that any student can walk into any office within Student Development and receive the information they need.
Vice President of Student Development Michele Murray said there were several factors that informed the realignment decision.
“Because we have a lot of things shifting within our student demographics, it was just important for us to take a look at how effective we are at delivering our services,” she said. “The work we’re doing now is really good; It’s just not as effective as it needs to be.”
Student surveys and statistics have revealed a number of problems that indicate a need for change. Last year, an unexpected dip in retention rates—particularly among junior year students—raised concern.
“Usually with retention decisions, students will decide to leave sometime during their first year,” said Assistant Vice President for Student Development and Director of Multicultural Affairs Monica Nixon. “But to have students who’ve already decided to be here—and then they leave—it just made us think, were there opportunities we missed in connecting with these students?”
On top of that, the retention rate for first-year students is currently at 88 percent, ranking Seattle U No. 18 among the 28 Jesuit institutions in the US. The Division of Student Development aims to raise that rate to 91 percent in the coming years.
In addition to raising retention numbers, the divisional realignment intends to have students become more involved with the school. One change Murray strongly advocated was moving the Learning Community program out of Housing and Residence Life so that learning communities that aren’t residentially based can receive more attention. The learning communities, which Nixon and Murray both said can work as powerful tools to foster student engagement, currently have a 53 percent approval rating from students.
According to Murray, the main problem with the way the Division of Student Development is currently set up is that it unintentionally gives students the impression that there is only one place on campus where they belong. While transfer students may feel they can only go to the Commuter & Transfer Student Life office for help, students of color may think the Office of Multicultural Affairs is the only place for them.
This is where the No Wrong Door Policy comes in. In theory, the realignment will make it easier for students to find help wherever they choose to go, regardless of what categories their questions may fall into. To achieve this goal by unifying the division, several departments will merge together: Student Activities with Leadership Development; New Student and Family Programs with Commuter and Transfer Student Life; Learning Communities with Organizational Leadership; and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) with the International Student Center (ISC).
“I think we have to be continually asking ourselves how well we’re serving our students,” said Director of Commuter and Transfer Student Life Diane Schmitz. “So if we’re going to be nimble enough to be responsive to student needs, then we have to look at how we’re structured.”
But with change inevitably comes confusion and fear. For many students, the realignment is upending the departments they’ve come to recognize as their homes at Seattle U.
One cause for student concern is that OMA and ISC are merging together to become one department, tentatively called the Intercultural Center.
Freshman Nicolas Cruz, a student who has been heavily involved with OMA since coming to Seattle U, said he is worried that the separate purposes of the two offices conflict with one another. While OMA serves partially as a place for undocumented students to go to feel safe, some ISC staff members are federally mandated to report undocumented students.
“There are quite a few undocumented students on campus who require undocumented services,” Cruz said. “But going into a combined ISC and OMA office could be risky, so they probably wouldn’t use the services at all.”
OMA and ISC currently serve populations of students with very different needs; OMA primarily serves students of color and LGBTQ, while ISC primarily serves international students. Cruz said he feels that merging the two offices could wind up disrupting the sense of safety students feel going to each office.
“Combining the two into an intercultural center is just homogenizing every ‘other’ student—anybody who’s not the normal college student,” he said. “While we would love to collaborate with each other, we’re not sure it’s the best thing to just push us all into one office.”
Cruz also said that students should have been more involved in the initial conversation about the divisional realignment. Though the changes have been discussed between members of the division since last year, Cruz and other students involved in the departments were only recently informed about what is happening. Crucial changes were agreed upon without student input, including the decision to move the offices into a different building.
The proposed space for the new combined ISC and OMA office is in the James C. Pigott Pavilion for Leadership, where members of the division feel it will be more visible and accessible to students than OMA’s current space on the third floor of the Student Center.
“The Pavilion is more of an open layout, so we won’t really have places where we can sit behind a closed door and talk about things that we can’t talk about when it’s open,” Cruz said. “They [the administration] asked us what color we want the curtains to be for the new office before we had even talked about why this is happening.”
Location changes have also upset some commuter students. Sophomore Lucy Moua, a commuter student who spends her time between classes in the Lynn Collegium, said she has mixed feelings about the collegium moving into the Student Center next year.
“I like it and I hate it at the same time,” Moua said. “It’s closer to my bus stop, which is nice, but I think [the administration] should have at least told us and gotten our input to see if we would be okay with it.”
For other students, the changes have been well received. Junior Kathleen Rounds, who will be President of the Student Events and Activities Council (SEAC) next year, sees the realignment as a positive move forward that will help the Division of Student Development evolve with the changing needs of Seattle U’s student body.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the administration has our best interests at heart when it comes to matters within student development,” Rounds said. “They are really geared towards making our university the best it can be in terms of experiences for students.”
While members of the division have already met with some specific groups to discuss the realignment, much of the student population has yet to share their points of view. In the coming weeks, they’ll have the opportunity to do so.
“I think that some of the changes were made without bringing students into the conversation soon enough,” said SGSU President Eric Sype. “The more that students can be brought into the conversation now, the better.”
On Thursday, May 7, Murray will host two town halls for all students to attend; the first will be from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Wyckoff Auditorium, and the second will be from 7 to 8 p.m. in Bannan 501. Overall, there will be about forty sessions with various student groups and departments around campus to gauge opinions about the realignment.
Murray said she intends to ask for advice on successful implementation of the new changes, and hopes those who attend the meetings will gain a better understanding of why the realignment is happening.
“While we’re straddling what we’ve been and what we’re becoming, I want to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks in this period of transition,” Nixon said.
Though some students and faculty are unhappy with the changes as of now, the realignment may prove to create a more sustainable model for the future of the division. Rather than building and staffing a new office every time a new population of students comes onto campus, the administration hopes the offices that already exist will have the tools to serve that population without cutting into the university’s budget. Most of the changes will go into effect as soon as next school year. Summer in Seattle orientations, which will be modified in the future to better equip students for transitions into college life, will not change for this coming summer.
“Change is hard for everybody,” Schmitz said. “We won’t get through this change successfully if we don’t stay engaged with each other, and that means in the difficult conversations as well.”
This is Bianca Sewake's fourth and final year at The Spectator, where she is the Online Content Editor and Managing Editor. She is equal parts excited and terrified that she is graduating with a BA in Journalism this spring. Unlike her hair color, Bianca's love for ice cream will never change.