Maddie Schumacher ’19 did not receive an invitation to a student input meeting regarding a new Master Plan for Macalester Residential Life. They’re not alone. The email invite to the Wednesday, April 17 meeting was only sent to first-year and sophomore students.
“Why was this only sent to underclassmen? Because they live in [Residential] Life. But those people aren’t going to have experience living off campus and the pros and cons of all that,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher and a group of other students are particularly interested in the college’s plans for the empty lot at 1661 Grand Avenue, which Macalester acquired in January 2018 for $2.2 million. The college is considering building a new residential hall on the property, and if they do so, will likely implement a three-year residency requirement for students.
Macalester has hired consulting firm Hanbury to conduct a long-term study on Residential Life at Macalester, involving feedback from students, faculty and staff. The student input meeting is just one factor that the firm will take into account before submitting a proposal to the college outlining strategies, costs and recommendations for implementing a new residential life Master Plan.
After hearing about the event despite not being invited, Schumacher and several others created a Facebook event and invited over 300 students to come and voice their opinion about the lot.
Schumacher and the other student activists were concerned with a lack of transparency regarding the fate of the empty lot.
“We were like, ‘Hey, why don’t we organize around this and see what people really think?’” Schumacher added.
“We stepped back from this presumption of, ‘A dorm is what has to go there,’” Emma Harrison ’21, one of the student organizers, said. “We wanted to step back and open up the discussion [and] say, ‘What are the possibilities? Why isn’t anybody on campus other than administration being asked in a really open and transparent way?’”
According to Schumacher, the inspiration to encourage participation surrounding the student lot came from a class they and their team are in: “Education for Liberation,” taught by Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Brian Lozenski.
“The class is all about disrupting traditional classroom settings or models of education or hierarchies within the classroom,” Harrison said. “We split up into groups to come up with some action projects.“
A group of eight students from the class have chosen to focus on the newly acquired lot as their action project. The Facebook event they created, titled “Decolonizing the Lot,” hoped to spark thoughtful discussion on what the new student space could look like.
“Macalester really likes acknowledging the land that we’re on and saying that it’s Dakota land, and we want to honor that,” Schumacher said. “But how are we actually gonna put that into action?”
The event saw Davis Court at near maximum capacity. Students raised an array of ideas for a new campus space on the lot, with many drawing on the pitfalls of Macalester’s existing student spaces.
Attendees noted that a new three year residency requirement may continue to perpetuate the “Mac bubble,” or the feeling of isolation from the surrounding community of Macalester’s campus.
“There used to be a community preschool as part of the Macalester teaching program. There used to be community involvement initiatives, there used to be designated spaces for community speakers to come in, and now there are none of these,” student activist Jennings Mergenthal ’21 said.
Other students pointed out the lack of space for multicultural programming on campus.
“I really think expansion of the Cultural House would be a good idea, especially the cultural org office, which says ‘offices,’ but it’s only one office,” Briah Cooley ’21 said.
The Cultural House is a residence hall geared towards being a safe space for students of color that also hosts a variety of cultural events and programs. An attendee pointed out that over 30 students applied for only 12 available slots to live in the Cultural House last year.
Many students agreed that there is not enough space specifically for students of color on campus, and that multicultural programming is often neglected.
“Macalester relies on uncompensated organizing of students to uphold its reputation of social responsibility and equity, and so I think if we do give space to cultural orgs we should consider paying cultural org leaders,” Anna Kleven ’21 said.
Accessibility on campus was another resounding concern from attendees. Many students pointed out that several buildings on campus are not fully accessible to people with disabilities.
“We currently have huge accessibility issues on campus, with many buildings still remaining inaccessible and many others having a single accessible entrance that is shunted away to the side,” Jason Kohn ’20 said.
Students at the forum also discussed a plan for the first floor of the building, which is zoned by the city of St. Paul to be a residential space. Rather than leasing the floor to outside businesses, students hope to see a student-run space on the first floor.
“We don’t want to see that space leased out to companies and corporations… what we want to see is student-run space. We want to see a space where there is a student-run grocery store,” Schumacher said.
Schumacher mentioned MacSHARE, a student co-op that buys bulk grocery items for students to purchase for low prices, as a potential candidate. The co-op currently lacks a permanent space of their own, so instead, students set up wherever they can when they hold grocery sales.
“There is a huge need for grocery items at Macalester,” they added. “The closest places where you can buy groceries are Kowalski’s and Whole Foods, which are ridiculously expensive and not affordable to a student budget at all.”
As the input meeting drew to a close, a student asked Hanbury consultant Jane Cady Rathbone to summarize her impressions of what students want the new campus space to look like.
“The authentic heritage and the culture and the care and sustainability of [the building] as well as the care and sustainability of the environment,” Rathbone said. “It seems like you guys care deeply about these issues.”
Several student activists regrouped on Wednesday, April 24, to recap the meeting and discuss their plans going forward. The organizers plan to come up with a series of proposals for the new campus space by the end of the semester. They will bring their ideas to Vice President for Student Affairs Donna Lee on Saturday, April 27.