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Letter from the Dean – Edition 5: Addressing student issues

Addressing issues on the minds of students

By Robert Dana

As spring arrives and winter recedes it’s been an absolute delight to connect with students in groups and organizations and also to sense the tremendous energy and exuberance of our whole campus. Yes, as always, this time of year there is a sense of exhaustion and “let’s get to the end” thinking, but there is also this wonderful and palpable feeling of curiosity, desire to be together, a fun-loving spirit, a doubling down on academic and intellectual interests and an all-around reawakening that inevitably happens as days grow longer and warmth envelops us.

These past few weeks have brought many student interests forward. I‘ll share them here in hopes they may spur your thinking and encourage your involvement in important and complex campus topics. They have motivated me to think deeper and helped me see where I could change my behavior or know more about something important to others.

Maine Day has been renamed and refigured for 2023 to become Maine Days. Not everyone is happy that there won’t be a day off for Maine Day, but quite a few people have shared that the day had lost its focus and the massive party that occurred off campus seemed less fun and more dangerous than they would like. Assuredly, more than 3,000 students stuffed into a smallish parking lot with no agenda and a tremendous amount of alcohol and other drugs, combined with the pent-up energy of a year of studying and a long winter, can lead to a party out of bounds and, sadly, that’s what happened on our beloved Maine Day. So, like at other campuses across the country, change needed to be considered and several committees and a lots of people have come up with a week-long approach that will include campus-based fun events, service activities, engagement by faculty and staff and a concerted effort to help students relax and enjoy themselves — while hopefully reducing the likelihood that anyone could get hurt in pursuit of stress relief. If you have questions about Maine Days, call Lisa Morin at the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism at 581-4194 or Ben Evans at the Center for Student Involvement at 581-4183. Let’s all give Maine Days a warm welcome and use the time to wind down the semester and get ready for finals.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are critically important when we think about creating a legitimate caring community. It isn’t uncommon for people to just think about the diversity part of the DEI equation as the best approach to creating this environment, but equity — that is a fair and level playing field and inclusion — an understanding, appreciation and the full and meaningful contribution of every member of a community are central to making a campus community truly engaging. Sure, we can work to bring more BIPOC faculty, staff and students here, but if there is not equal access for everyone and a sense of welcome and involvement, then those we thought we were welcoming may feel marginalized, othered, left out and not in any real way a part of the community. So, it takes all three efforts to make this university great — more diversity, policies and programs that assure equity, and a campus ethos that is kind, caring and compassionate while assuring that opportunities and encouragement abound for everyone in all aspects of campus life. 

Graduate students have been organizing to assure equity and inclusion through establishing a graduate student labor union on campus. This is another sign that people are engaged in making UMaine a welcoming and supportive environment where all voices matter and where human rights and equal treatment are assured. Since this discussion has started, I’ve heard from many students who tell of great kindness, careful attention, excellent teaching, superb mentoring and life-changing interactions with graduate students who teach, do research, oversee housing, programs and cross – campus initiatives. The impact of our graduate students on campus life is profound in many ways, shapes, and forms, so articulating and demonstrating our respect, admiration and thanks for these people who are an important part of the campus scaffold and infrastructure is the least we can do.

Those are some of the things on student minds this week. Others included the ills of being too bureaucratic, the importance of recognizing that power does not trump kindness, openness to new ideas and ways of the world make life more interesting and that being truly empathetic requires setting aside our fears and worries and carefully listening to another person while being present and not distracted.

As I write this letter, Women’s History Month is concluding and it’s a safe bet to recognize that women’s history is our history, it’s world history, and women have changed our society in countless ways that make us all better. One month is a comma in the calendar, but when you really think about it, shouldn’t women’s history be celebrated every day and all the time?

As we head into finals and the conclusion of the semester my hope is that you take care of yourselves and each other and, every chance you get, open your arms to the sun.

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