Students brainstorm to build a better Macalester

By Matea Wasend

About thirty-five students gathered in Weyerhaeuser on Wednesday evening with a simple goal in mind: to build a better Macalester. They were there for part two of a program put together by Owen Truesdell ’11 and Yeukai Mudzi ’12, in conjunction with Dean of Students Jim Hoppe and Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre. Part one saw about thirty students last week in what Truesdell called a “giant brainstorming session” about what could be better about Macalester.

At the first meeting, Truesdell explained (for the benefit of many new faces Wednesday), the collaborators identified a key frustration that reaches every corner of the school: the fragmented sense of community.

“We all want to have a sense of unity at Macalester,” said Michael Manansala ’12. “But we all feel entitled to our own private space.”

Build a Better Mac: Part I participants came up with four areas where a divide is particularly noticeable-between athletes and non-athletes, between international and domestic students, between differing political viewpoints and among academic departments.

Truesdell and Mudzi told this week’s group to split up into four conversation corners and come up with some tangible solutions to the problems within their area. Mudzi encouraged students to discuss options both new, like holding different events and programs, and old, like tweaking existing programs to address concerns.

“We need to take concrete steps in fixing things that we don’t like,” Truesdell said.

Fueled by spaghetti and lasagna, students conversed within their groups for about 35 minutes, addressing questions far and wide: How does Orientation isolate international students from domestic ones? Should Macalester hold mandatory cross-department lectures? Why do student-athletes have access to more resources-like athletic trainers-than non-athletes?

Then they reconvened and presented their findings-displayed on giant poster paper-to the room.

Among the multiplicity of suggestions and ideas, some common themes emerged-the need to coordinate on events and lectures so busy students could attend more, a desire to lengthen and alter Orientation to better address diversity issues, the importance of stepping out of ones’ comfort zone and support a wider variety of campus groups.

And, it seemed, the need for a way to get Mac students excited about just being at Mac.

“We need to host an event where we are all just really celebratory of Macalester,” Manansala suggested in the same vein of a number of other comments. Some students referenced Carleton College, which holds regular lectures that are allegedly attended by most of the school “just because.”

What an event like that might look like was left for discussion at the next Build a Better Macalester meeting, which Truesdell said will likely fall after Thanksgiving Break. Also under discussion will be a few of the night’s other big ideas, like organizing a “mix-it-up” day at Café Mac to get students mingling, expanding the Student Athlete Advisory Committee’s Kofi Cup program to integrate non-athletic programs, bringing in speakers from a wider variety of political backgrounds.

And as to how long it might take to Build a Better Mac?

” We’ll go until we drop,” Truesdell said.