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Student forum proposes new ideas and answers concerns

By Angel Mendez
On March 7, 2012

Students voiced their concerns and proposed new ideas tonight at a forum with President Dianne Lynch. 

Unlike last year's forum where students emailed their questions or concerns before the meeting, students arrived at this forum and wrote down their topics as Lynch answered them one-by-one, addressing three major concerns:

Living off campus and new flex dollar options

One of the first discussions involved what Lynch said has been an "ongoing tension" to be able to live off campus. Before, only students from Columbia or with allergy or other health-related problems were allowed this privilege. Now, seniors with at least 90 credit hours have the option to live beyond campus territory, but it comes with a price.

Lynch said when students move off campus, the price to live on campus is removed from their cost of attendance, which causes a decrease in their financial aid. She said the highest amount a student will lose is the average amount of housing. Because it is different for each student, Lynch recommended visiting financial aid to figure the exact numbers.

Although living on campus includes the student's dorm room, Lynch said the amount also pays for "the time when security helps unlock a student's car, visits to the nurse's office and student life services."

"We want to incentivize living on campus," Lynch said. "There will be an impact, and it will be different (to live off campus), but you make the choice."

Some students questioned why Stephens requires students who live off campus to have a meal plan, otherwise referred to as the $2,000 flex option. 

Lynch said it's for the "safety and health of all students to have a meal plan," but discussions are still underway on how the flex dollars will operate in the future. Although the plan is still in the works, Lynch hinted that there will be "many more places to spend flex dollars next year," including a revamped bookstore offering cosmetics, water, toiletries, and other retail items.

"It won't be as cheap as Wal-Mart, but it also won't be much different in price," Lynch said. "It's not about making money, but rather being convenient for you."

Lynch also mentioned the upcoming debut of the Student Union as another flex dollar option, which will offer students a place to socialize and purchase frozen yogurt, Kaldi's coffe and other food until midnight.

With all of these options in mind, students with the unlimited meal plan and $200 flex questioned if the $200 was enough. Lynch said although the plan is not final, Stephens may expand the meal program so students have the choice of flex dollar amounts. 

Smoke-free Stephens

A surprising majority addressed the concern of smoking on campus. While some students said they only wanted smoke-free areas, others saw the need in an entirely smoke-free campus.

One student said smokers stand too close to her building where their smoke comes through her open window. Lynch proposed creating smoking huts around buildings to trap cigarette smoke but also wondered if the stigma of standing underneath a place specific for smoking would deter students from using them. Another student questioned what prospective students may think about the huts on campus tours.

"If it's such an unhealthy behavior, why would we advertise that we're enabling it," she said.

One student proposed setting up picnic benches for smokers to use that met campus and city regulations that ban smoking within 25 feet of a building. Most agreed that banning smoking from campus completely is the wrong approach, including Lynch who said the ban may cause the problem of students smoking out of the residential building's windows.

"We must be clear about the rules and give them a space," Lynch said. "Enforcing it is the big thing."

$2.3 million renovation plan

Lynch briefly mentioned a fund worth $2.3 million that is being used to make renovations throughout campus, including the replacement of the water pipes in Tower Hall, increasing the wireless Internet capacity and revamping the Hugh Stephens Library.

One student proposed the idea of Stephens providing satellite cable and possibly TiVo in the lobby areas of each residential building, which Lynch added to her list of student requests.

Along with these improvements, Lynch said August is the projected finish line for the classroom renovations being financed through a campaign separate from this fund.

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