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Beloit Forward co-leads discuss campus issues, future

The announcement over the summer that Beloit College is facing a $7 million deficit left many students wondering about the effects this would have on campus life. The Round Table sat down with Beloit professors and co-leads of the Beloit Forward plan – Modern Languages & Literatures professors Sylvia Lopez and Donna Oliver, and English professor Shawn Gillen – to further discuss questions raised in the Aug. 27 town hall meeting.

One of the issues raised around retention of students on the Beloit Forward website under the heading “Enrollment, Retention, and Campus Climate” is the elimination of the supplementary essay in the Beloit College application, which asked prospective students to consider why they might be a good fit for Beloit, and which some members of the administration believe may be related to why some students do not feel prepared for college life upon arrival. The Beloit Forward committee has proposed returning the essay requirement. “To lower barriers, we [eliminated] the supplementary essay and SAT and ACT scores – so they are not submitted at the time of acceptance,” Lopez said. “The elimination of the Beloit-specific essay then meant we got students who didn’t know what Beloit is all about,” Oliver said. “It might signal that we’re not as exclusive,” Lopez added. Lopez also explained that the other Midwestern liberal arts colleges that we are competing with require such essays from prospective students. It is also important to note, however, that these proposals are not evidence for the troubling retention rate.

Another aspect of preparing first-year students for college-level courses and life has been the First Year Initiative classes. “There’s discussion underway for revisions to FYIs due to staffing overall […] the current plan is for more regular intro courses to function as introductory initiative courses,” Oliver told The Round Table. “[FYIs] are about the content […] and through that, students are introduced to college-level expectations.” Lopez explained that it would be “helpful to engage students about that issue” because revising FYIs was not “specifically” discussed this summer, but said that “maybe all faculty should be thinking about how we help students acclimate; how we prepare them for success.”

During the Aug. 27 town hall meeting, the Beloit Forward committee members explained that they toured dorms over the summer and plan to revitalize certain dorm spaces with more paint and lighting. Included on the list for revitalization are 609 Hall (currently closed pending renovation), Brannon Hall and C-Haus.  

Among other changes on campus include the much-discussed Powerhouse project, which has become a polarizing conversation in many of Beloit’s classrooms. “The Powerhouse is kind of a looming spectre that is going to change campus life,” Gillen said, noting that many of the same conversations arose with the construction of the Marjorie and James Sanger Center for the Sciences. The Powerhouse, which is fully funded due to Beloit Historical Society and state grants as well as fundraising, will be located on Pleasant Street directly opposite the Sports Center, and will open in the Fall of 2019. The Powerhouse will feature a walking bridge for students; areas for studying, gathering, and viewing the Rock River; an indoor pool; fitness area; cafe; lecture hall and conference rooms. The Powerhouse was recently on the shortlist for a Health-Future Projects award from the World Architecture Festival.

“Don’t rely on hearsay or rumor; come ask us,” Lopez said regarding negativity and the spread of false information on campus. “We’ve hosted office hours; we’re still willing to do that. We’ve [also] met with members of student government.”

Speaking on the recent announcement about student hosts becoming volunteers (also covered elsewhere in this issue), Oliver explained that the decision “originated in enrollment.” Being a volunteer student host is commonplace on many college campuses, including Ripon College, St. Olaf College, the University of Chicago and Washington University. “Over ninety percent of our students receive some kind of aid,” Lopez said. “How do we signal to our students to pay it forward? How do we develop a culture of giving? [Volunteering] can be a way of saying, ‘thank you.’” Gillen noted that no longer paying student hosts meant that money could be saved elsewhere in the budget, including to help retain staff and faculty.

“The good qualities of this place tend to get muffled,” Gillen said. Indeed, Beloit College is ranked at number 28 for Best Undergraduate Teaching in U.S. News, and has risen in its ranking of national liberal arts colleges. “The health of the institution depends on all of us,” Oliver said. “We are part of the institution; we can’t treat it as something that’s doing something to us – we are part of it.”

Further developments will be covered by The Round Table.

Sources: World Architecture Festival, U.S. News

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