Olive Daniels

Staff Writer

On Monday evening, many Davidson students and some faculty members gathered in the Duke Family Performance Hall to listen as President Carol Quillen delivered the first ever State of the Campus Address. Spearheaded by the Student Government Association (SGA), the event was held to build bridges of communication between the college administration and student body. As the first attendees of such an event, many students were not sure what to expect as they sat down and listened to SGA President Pablo Zevallos welcome the crowd. The title suggested an informative talk about Davidson’s position relative to those of other universities, new programs, and optimistic comments about the current school year. However, as Quillen described the format for the evening, expectations quickly changed, as did the tone of the crowd. The meeting began to resemble a town hall gathering or an open forum, and Quillen made it very clear that her intent was not to convey just one voice, but to open the floor to a chorus of opinions and ideas. Initially, Quillen invited students to call out the issues which “frustrate, vex, or scare” them. Among the words shouted out came matters like grade deflation, the laundry system – met with some laughs , Davidson’s name recognition outside of the Southeast, racism, micro-aggressions and perfectionism. Quillen explained that during the upcoming week, she would address issues like grade deflation, required meal plans and laundry in other fora; that night, however, she intended to focus on the social, more personal subjects at hand, believing that these were conversations that needed to be brought out on campus. Quillen moved to address two main issues: perfectionism and racism on campus. Faced with questions about the intense workload at Davidson and how it compares to that of other institutions, Quillen urged students to seek balance and conversation within their academic routines.She specifically expressed her concern for students’ rights to assert their own opinions regarding their assigned work, providing the audience with an anecdote about her own choices as a college student; ultimately, she asserted that students must be okay saying, “I’m not doing that; I’m doing this instead,” but that such a statement can be better facilitated through communication with faculty. Emphasizing the commitment of Davidson professors, Quillen urged students to seek a change in tone, creating conversation in the place of argument.In doing so, according to Quillen, students will be able to pursue and achieve the best conditions for actually learning the material and not just doing work for the sake of work. Transitioning to address another large concern on campus, Quillen opened a discussion regarding racism. Students began to ask questions about the college’s cultural diversity requirement and the general sense of “white culture” on campus. Quillen spoke to these concerns from both a curricular and social perspective. Urging students to “bring [their] own critical perspectives to any curriculum,” Quillen once again emphasized the importance of communication between students and faculty with regard to curricular content and their abilities to create change in places robust with good intentions. Students began to specifically voice concerns about the existence and continuation of parties centered on themes of cultural identity. Quillen responded to this issue with two solutions: a short-term response and a long-term approach. Advocating subversion of such events, Quillen offered students a way to express opposition in the moment, while maintaining their “sense[s] of agency and ownership.” As a long-term response, Quillen urged students themselves to seek out the organizers and hosts of these events and facilitate conversations, moving from instinctive defensive mechanisms to a sense of common ground to “move forward as a community.” Following the event, students seemed impressed and satisfied, albeit surprised, by the tone of the evening. Evie Osazee `16 voiced her concerns about racism and employment after graduation, saying, “I enjoyed it, and I was glad that I got to talk about the issues that are really important to me, but I just wished we had more time.” Elizabeth Sasser `19 was “pleasantly surprised” by the event and was glad that her fellow students voiced questions that she herself had thought about; in all, she expressed her content with the way “President Quillen talked with us rather than at us.” Quillen expressed her gratefulness to the students for participating in the forum. She stated that she hopes to have encouraged students to seek out and participate in what may be “difficult conversations in order to facilitate a context in which [they] can create and own their own culture.” Quillen advocated further, as she did throughout the evening, for balance within confrontation and difficult issues; she continued to urge those around her to seek common ground in order to strengthen our own community by empowering its students and giving a platform for their voices.