This past Winter Term, a mysterious poem of unknown origin ignited a cold Lawrenceville campus, brewing heated discussions and bringing about a widespread sense of dissatisfaction that culminated in a full-school town hall. The town hall spanned topics ranging from a lack of administration transparency to the mismanagement of student mental health. Head of School Stephen Murray H’54 ’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21 sent a follow-up message to students near the beginning of the Spring Term, offering a series of residential life meetings to begin the cooperative approach toward creating lasting change across campus.
While such an opportunity to openly express student dissatisfactions comes with extreme responsibility, what came from the meeting and ensuing discussions was surprisingly genuine student feedback and opinion to Lawrenceville’s faculty. I was impressed by how astute some suggestions in my residential life group were, and how much care was put into efforts of bringing about real change on campus. The town hall certainly wasn't perfect, but the quality of feedback was less important than the achievement of open communication. The town hall set a precedent of direct discussion between students and faculty; To abandon town halls would be nothing short of a missed opportunity for student-faculty cooperation in addressing campus issues.
The town hall inspired revitalized discourse of campus issues by providing direct contact between students and faculty. Even the simplest campus issues can seem impossible to address or solve, especially when communication between students and faculty is not only minimal, but also stinted by the impacts of Covid-restrictions. The town hall, and by extension the poem, allowed students to directly reach faculty regardless of how significant or difficult student suggestions were. This newly opened channel of communication has the potential to bring about real change for the school. Of course, change takes time, but if the frequent discussion meetings the school is planning indicate anything, it's that the door is open for feedback.
The town halls still have room for improvement in the vein of open communication. The last town hall was a one directional discussion, since, while students were able to address their concerns to faculty, faculty were not allowed to comment on student concerns. A discussion should express the views of all members involved. Letting students know the faculty’s thought process can both increase trust between parties and give students insight into the nebulous process of administration decision making. The town hall should also give students the ability to write anonymous concerns to encourage a diversity of voices. Speaking in front of a crowd of hundreds of students and faculty can be a daunting task, and expressing well-phrased arguments about contentious or controversial issues on campus can be even more challenging. By allowing for anonymous feedback, town halls could broaden the scope of student responses while encouraging honesty with no fear of endangering one's safety.
Ultimately, the main benefit of these town halls seems to be the spirit of cooperation created by mutual attempts at improving our campus. Whether it be Murray's note-taking on each and every topic addressed by the students, or students’ willingness to address issues on campus even with finals week on the horizon, every party engaged is with each other and earnestly seeking change for the better. Yes, Lawrenceville is a school, but it's also a community where students and faculty coexist. Town halls are a direct message of trust and transparency; they are a devotion of time and effort by both parties involved and represent a mutual commitment to progress and change, no matter how intractable affairs may seem. Through the Harkness table and the Lawrenceville school mission statement, cooperation lies at the heart of campus. To seek the best for all beyond the classroom is to confront issues through public discourse; to pursue town halls is the ultimate validation of this campus mission.