Student leaders want more open conversations

UK student leaders and the university’s new top diversity official have said they would like to meet again to discuss the culture on campus and ways it can improve.

Leaders of 12 student organizations at UK first met for a candid discussion with Vice President for Institutional Diversity Judy “J.J.” Jackson on Monday. Having more meetings like it could help bring unity to campus diversity efforts, said National Pan-Hellenic Council President Aria Higgins.

“We have an abundance of power on this campus, and our voices need to be heard from a collective body,” Higgins said. “We all have the same goal of seeing the university being on one accord as far as recruitment and retention. We need to tap into our resources in order to see the changes that were brought up in the meeting make it to campus.”

Jackson, currently at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was selected last month to take on the newly created role. As vice president for institutional diversity starting July 1, Jackson will be responsible for coordinating diversity efforts among students, faculty, staff and administrators. She will also advise the president and the provost on how university decisions will affect UK’s diversity goals.

Jackson said her role at UK will not be to intervene or replace student affairs personnel. Instead, meetings like Monday’s among student leaders are intended to foster dialogue and let Jackson know the culture of UK’s campus before she arrives, she said.

Future meetings with other student leaders and with Jackson will be easier after Monday’s gathering, said Mehmet Saracoglu, president of the Interfaith Dialogue Organization.

“I think given that most of us met Dr. Jackson for the first time, we didn’t know how open she was for ideas and exchange with students, and I think it will be easier to bring things up if it wasn’t mentioned yesterday,” Saracoglu said.

Patrick Nally, a marketing and integrated strategic communications junior, said some of the changes that should be discussed include establishing a religious center on campus and a diversity office that is globally and internationally based.

Regular meetings among campus leaders should be expanded to include more people, Nally said, and could help bring more understanding among student-led groups.

“The big group that’s looking down and the little group that’s looking up need to move toward the middle,” Nally said. “You’ll never be at a place in life where you can’t learn from each other.”

Student Activities Board President Grace Hahn said leaders should look at themselves not just as the heads of their organizations but as representatives of the entire campus as well.

“There are so many great student leaders that have a lot of knowledge to offer other groups,” Hahn said. “I also hope to see many more meetings of the type we had yesterday (Monday) where student leaders take the time to sit down and talk about the issues surrounding everyone on campus.”