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Student-Driven Programming

Posted by on Sunday, February 21, 2016 in News.

Doug Fisher is the Faculty Director of Warren College. This post reflects Doug’s opinions and not necessarily those of Vanderbilt University.

On Friday night (2/19) I went to The Poets’ Choice Awards by Vanderbilt Spoken Word at the Sarratt Cinema. It was awesome. There were over 200 people in the audience, largely students, with some family and faculty/staff too. The program shows about 50 individual performers and support staff, to include the two special guest groups (Nach Vandy and Harmonic Notion). That is over 250 total participants! And I am not counting those who attended Saturday night’s encore performance, nor the distinct special guest groups (The Original Cast and Tongue N’ Cheek) appearing on Saturday’s bill. I am assuming that some people attended both nights (it was worth it). 500 individuals over both nights is probably a good estimate of the number of participants. And on Friday and Saturday nights! That is remarkable.

The Poets’ Choice Awards is student-driven programming in its purest and most successful form. It draws on students from across campus (e.g., 6 performers were from Warren College, one Warren/Vanderbilt alum, and one of my database students), and diverse in gender and race. The event required a significant investment of time, brains, heart, and sweat for composition, planning, and execution. The pieces were so well written, addressing important issues of sexual assault, personal identity, mental health, to name a few. The audience was attentive and boisterous, creating a kind of dialog that was gratifying and fun. The event drew in faculty, staff, alums, and family, as well as students. Professor Lori Troxel, a WaM faculty associate, and her husband sat in front of me. This is the kind of program I dream about.

There are plenty of other student-driven programs on campus, like Diwali, Original Cast Fall and Spring shows, hackathons (e.g., Vandy Hacks and Hack Vandy), and so many more. The Meladores are a student organization with events that have gone viral and international.

There are some who might not label the activities above as “programs”, but they are (and ideal programs at that), particularly when Vanderbilt funds and other resources are used. While many of these groups benefit from well-placed faculty/staff advice and support, the programs may hide in plain sight when we have our “programming glasses on” because they include little staff and faculty involvement beyond advice and signatures. As the saying goes, sometimes the most important thing one can do is to stay out of someone else’s way.

The most important thing that I do relative to student-driven programs is that I go to them. As a former faculty member in residence at McGill, old Kissam, and North, I regarded my primary obligation to be “showing up” at student driven events like the McGill Hours and Coffee Houses, SPEAR meetings, NAACP panels, and student religious group gatherings and worship at St Augustine’s; as well as institutionally-sponsored events like those by the Women’s Center, Office of Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs, the Chaplain’s Office, Outdoor Recreation, and Residential Education. I’ve experienced that student-driven programming is pervasive at Vanderbilt for a long time, and I want to make a formal census of the many exemplars of student-driven programming and dig into their origins, which will give those of us that worry about programming a back drop against which to frame everything else we do.

Now that I am a Faculty Director, being an ambassador of the faculty to the after hours of Vanderbilt’s residential life — be it at The Ingram Commons, McGill, Moore College, Furman, Stevenson, or Sarratt — is only one of my obligations. My primary obligation is to be a community facilitator and lead at Warren and WaM, working with the Graduate Fellows, the Warren Council, Patricia, the Area Coordinator, and RAs. The latter role of facilitator, as I see it, is many fold.

First, our role to foster a safe and reenergizing residential community — a “home”, albeit different from the traditional home, with Fresh Baked Fridays being an example of a program intended to foster that.

Second, the FDs and GFs take on ventures that require considerable funds and/or a commitment to the long haul. Professor Lovensheimer’s Concerts at Kissam are a good example. While initial attendance in year one was often small, its been growing thanks to a Faculty Director’s commitment and patience that allows it to grow. The concerts are also considerably responsible for WaM getting more Blair students, despite the long distance to Blair. The WaM environmental series is another example, and we’ll exhibit long-term patience with that too, because we believe that WaM should always have environmental programming — sustainability should be in our bedrock.

Third, FD and GF programs introduce students to faculty and staff community members, including the Chancellor and Provost, who our students might not otherwise be able to meet and speak with. Dinners at the faculty apartments, Moore’s Coffee and Conversations, and Warren’s Fireside Chats are examples of these.

Fourth, while there is already awesome student-driven programming across Vanderbilt, we are exploring mechanisms for facilitating still more of it within Warren and WaM, albeit in ways that complement what is already pervasive across campus.

How do we facilitate still more student-driven programming without interfering with what is not broken? Again, our approach is “in house” and we hope to appeal to those students not previously involved in program planning, or have a break in other programming that they are involved with. We give the Warren Council a budget to use, and they tap into the mood of the students in defining and timing events. Student committees help plan programs like Hot Topics and The Warren Film Series with the Graduate Fellows. We are also creating new initiatives that invite Warren students to lead discussions at Warren 503. On March 17, we have our first student guest presenter, who will be doing a slide show on her experience in Peru on a summer internship at hospitals and traveling the countryside. We also are inviting students to host their invited guests in 503. This opportunity grew from suggestions at the Senior Alumni Hall dinner by a few seniors who wanted to host employees from The Market and The Kitchen, for dinner and to hear their stories.

In truth, all these mechanisms, and more, for facilitating student-driven programming at Warren and WaM exist now, and can be exercised by knocking on the Faculty Director doors and/or the Graduate Fellows doors. Some of what I have just described are ways of scaffolding this entry for students, but even those scaffolds often develop as the result of student ideas. Much of what emerges in the way of Warren and WaM student driven programming may be small compared to The Poet’s Choice Awards and other across campus student collective efforts, but that’s great, because the last thing that I want to do is to compete with larger student run programs. We hope to complement the larger efforts too, in opening opportunities for other students to lead and plan events with nuanced themes that appeal to smaller groups. All good.

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