Simon’s Rock's break policy has historically been controversial. After the creation of RISE last year, one of the issues in the initial discussion was that petitioning to stay on campus over breaks needed to be made easier and more reliable, especially for students who weren't comfortable or safe returning to their home environments over break. This semester it seems like misunderstandings between the administration and the student body are still an issue, especially in the case of a new clause in the campus handbook that would create a $250 fee for students to stay over campus. Importantly, this rule applies to international students, for whom traveling home over break is prohibitively expensive. In the past, break fees were comparatively minimal. This issue was notably pointed out in a scathing email from a student to several members of the administration including Brady McCartney and Ian Bickford. The email was then forwarded by its author to other students and faculty, rapidly making the rounds across campus. It is noteworthy mostly because it was sent out early in the semester and widely circulated, making it the first exposure to the heated nature of campus politics for many new students.
The beginning of the email draws attention to the break fee, pointing out that that there are “students who actually can't afford that, and have nowhere to go […] I don't know if you realize that plane ticket prices go up as time goes down. It would be really helpful if you were to announce your jackassery at the beginnings of semesters”. This point resonates with the complaints about break policy from last year: in both cases there are reasons for the policy, but they arguably overlook the diverse circumstances of Simon’s Rock students.
From this point, the student addresses the economic inequality perpetuated by school policy on a more general level: “you do realize that you're literally doing your best to exacerbate racialized and gendered income inequality, right? I get that we don't have enough money to give free tuition to everyone, but there are so many ways in which you're fucking over humans you [sic] can't afford to be here and those who can't afford to work here because you don't give raises and don't fucking have a human resources department or a union of any sort”. The last point certainly speaks to the school's $11/hour student wage, among other issues.
In the short term, the email seems to have been effective with regards to the break policy. One week later, the fee was canceled for the upcoming October break only, and only for students more than 750 miles from home. An email from Provost Ian Bickford sent to students and parents gave the reasoning that “a fee covering services and dining […] was not announced to parents and families in a timely fashion”. However, he reiterated that the fee would be upheld in the future and that it was justified by the growing numbers of students staying over breaks and the increasing level of services provided over break. The reasoning is certainly understandable: during last October's break, nearly 100 students stayed over break. In comparison, a few years ago only a handful of students stayed over breaks.
I also spoke with a former student concerning the email’s condemnation of the school’s mental and physical health services, in which the author accuses the school of “making no effort to provide any support to students facing mental health issues and then claim[ing] that you do”. The student’s response was that the email was a symptom of problems as much as a response. The email is nothing new, they told me, and the creation of RISE proves that the administration only cares about saving face: “RISE was made in direct response to the awareness that they were [under fire] for not helping students. They know all about our complaints about the school; title nine, health care, mental health, etc. […] We wanted doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists available. SRC’s answer was to train freshmen to answer phones”.
The debate over institutional justice goes far beyond this email, this student, or the set of people on campus this year. One hopes that RISE and other such programs will help to bridge the gap between student needs and administrative decision making, but at times it seems we have this conversation every few months and nothing changes. For the time being, the responsibility is on us as students, both to hold the administration responsible for its mistakes and to commend it for its successes.
Rafie is a frequent contributor to the Cad.