President Jane Close Conoley’s dinner at Beachside College residential dining hall on Tuesday came with a lack of fanfare; no official statements, no formal introductions – just two small posters on the Beachside doors saying, “Come eat with the President!”
Along with Beachside Faculty in Residence Angela Locks and Long Wang’s weekly FIR dinners, the event helped bridge communication between university administration and residential students. This marked Conoley’s first time eating at the off-campus residential hall.
Conoley’s first impressions of the food?
“Um, kind of middle. I’m a vegetarian,” Conoley said. “So I didn’t see a lot of choices for me.”
As residents filled about a dozen seats, Conoley engaged with each one individually, asking about their majors and ambitions. She reflected on her own experiences as president and a former student herself.
“I’m thankful that she actually had a real answer … to almost everyone’s questions,” said Ariana Faizi, one of two Beachside resident assistants involved in promoting the event. “I was worried that I’d get a very political response when I was talking with her earlier.”
One moment that gave Faizi pause came when Conoley invited students the to ask her questions. In response, senior philosophy major Justin Welch reached into his inner coat pocket and handed her a stapled five-page list of gripes the condition of the dormitory.
“I’ve been here for two years, so I know a lot about Beachside itself,” Welch said. “A lot of my closest friends are RA’s and I just decided that there’s so much going on here that needs to be fixed … I just decided to put it all together in one document so I could keep my thoughts together.”
Conoley touched on a couple of the list’s issues throughout the event, including concerns of food safety and the state of the Beachside buildings themselves.
The latter went hand in hand with the university’s next major housing development, which has yet to be formally announced. Dubbed by her as a “living building,” the three-story and four-story residential halls are set to be located near Parkside College with construction starting this summer.
Conoley’s excitement over these plans received a mixed response from residents.
“It’s just frustrating as someone who works in housing,” Faizi said after the dinner. “We have missing ceiling tiles here. We have rotting things here. Every time it rains, these buildings become a danger. We’re told there’s no money, yet somehow there’s a lot of money for a five-story glass, living, breathing house. No one who’s living in housing now will have the opportunity to live in it. But I guess for future residents, it’s great.”
Throughout the meal, Conoley accepted the criticism.
“I have to say: I think our students 99% [of the time] have been, sometimes upset about things, but almost always civil,” she said. “I try to be civil back.”
Once the dinner ended, Conoley stuck around to speak one-on-one and take pictures.
“I really liked her,” Welch said. “She seems like she is trying, and I’ve read up on her online – she sounds really academic and intelligent… I’m just glad it finally happened. She seems really open to having our voices heard, which is amazing.”