The Center of Leadership and Community Engagement (LACE Center) historically has housed specific student organizations on the fourth floor of Medaille Hall. Students both involved in the LACE Center and not have reported feeling issues related to inclusion, which have been described as negatively impacting student-leader relationships. Some students have claimed this impact has caused a disconnect from the overall Fontbonne community. How did the LACE Center begin and what is it now?
The LACE Center was not always the space that it is today. Janelle Julian (Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs) sat down with me and explained the logistics of the space.
“The LACE Center used to be an informal space dedicated to commuter students so they could spend their time relaxing in between classes. This space used to be known as the ‘Griffin’s Nest.’ Later, there was a shift in the use of LACE by the student body. More students began to use the LACE Center for specific organizations like the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Fontbonne Activities Board (FAB). In the summer of 2016, the LACE Center was officially created to be a space for all student organizations to use resources. Some of these resources include supplies like paper, markers, balloons, and other office supplies. Also, the physical space can be used by student organizations to host meetings.”
Although there are resources being offered to student organizations, some students have described having trouble accessing the supplies and space.
Sophomore Amelia Tregoning serves as the ENACTUS (ENtrepreneurial ACTion US) President, which is an organization for students primarily interested in business. Amelia has been in this position for about a year and describes seeing some miscommunication about the resources available firsthand, stating:
“This is my first year being the ENACTUS president and it’s been hard getting access to those resources. There’s a lock on the door with a keypad to the LACE center. I think work study students and organizations of FAB and Dance Marathon have that keypad code. I’ve never been told that keypad code as the president of an organization at Fontbonne. It’s not a big deal, but don’t act like it is a community space if you are not going to offer that space to everyone equally.”
Even with students describing facing these issues, the LACE Center is trying to work on becoming a true community space . The President of FAB, Junior Samantha Boeving, has even noticed these issues as a student involved with the LACE Center. Boeving explains, “People stereotype the LACE center because it only takes one person to stereotype the whole center. I think that stereotype is hard to break. It’s hard when not all student activities are held under the same place. If everyone’s office was up there for every organization, that stereotype probably wouldn’t exist. It’s hard with the limited space of Fontbonne. With other colleges, every organization is usually under a student activity center. It’s just hard now with the growing number of organizations and the limited space we have on campus.”
While Fontbonne does not have a central location for a Student Activities Center, the LACE Center has been a stand-in of that same concept. Janelle Julian commented about the student organization relationships from the viewpoint as an advisor for SGA:
“I think we’ve made a little step towards inclusion by creating the LACE, but we haven’t done the best job with bringing all student organizations up to this space. I think there’s still a feeling that if your organization isn’t advised by staff in LACE, then LACE isn’t for you. We are trying to communicate with other organizations ‘Your advisor may not work up here, but you are more than welcome to use the supplies in LACE.’ We are trying to build off of that dream with the physical space that we have that is functioning well, but how can we make that function for more people?”
Student organizations like Black Student Union (BSU) are trying to overcome their differences along with FAB. Junior Octavia Collins is the BSU President and shared her thoughts:
“There are not many inclusive events that the LACE Center hosts. The events that they do host do not always cater to the majority of Fontbonne students. One of the things that Fontbonne talks about a lot is diversity. If you are going to have a diverse school, there need to be events to represent that diversity. If you don’t do things that can include all students on this campus, that will be LACE’s biggest downfall. I also feel that there was a misunderstanding because of the relationship with FAB and Black Student Union (BSU). Now, both organizations are trying to fix that misunderstanding and miscommunication and move forward to make things better on Fontbonne’s campus.”
How exactly can student leaders attempt to address these issues of miscommunication and inclusion happening everyday on the campus? All three students that I interviewed had similar responses to this question.
Boeving wants to see more students use their voices in surveys designed to get student feedback about organizations. “(FAB) tried to assess events through a survey and we would ask questions like ‘What has been your favorite event this year?’ We would receive stupid answers like ‘jerk chicken.’ Students aren’t using their voices properly. I think people are afraid to hurt feelings, but it is part of the job. That’s part of campus culture, you have to speak up for yourself.”
Tregoning suggested that LACE could possibly create a handbook for incoming student organization presidents. This handbook could help to create a better communication system according to Tregoning. “There needs to be a common thread of how students use the space and being able to share the space. It could be helpful to make a handbook for executive members for all student organizations about what resources on campus there are.”
Lastly, Collins encourages students who feel like they are being left out to speak up, or to find someone on campus to help them to do so. “In order to understand an outsider’s opinion, there has to be a sense of wanting to see change. If you see a problem, are you going to take those necessary steps to create change? There has to be a willingness for understanding. Also, for those students that are being excluded, they have to be willing to speak up. They have to be willing to speak what is on your mind. If you don’t feel comfortable, talk to someone who can speak for you. BSU had Leslie (Doyle) who vouched for us a lot. That can only take you so far, you have to do the rest.”
Fontbonne’s LACE Center is trying to take steps to become a more inclusive space on campus. Students are becoming conscious of these perceived issues concerning inclusion and a lack of communication. Not only are student leaders across different sectors and departments of Fontbonne acknowledging these issues personally, they are doing so with other leaders. Having these student leaders and an advisor reflect on their own leadership and organizations fits perfectly with the mission of our university. Fontbonne calls students to “become global citizens who think critically, act ethically and serve responsibly.” These kinds of conversations and opinions should be sought out for the good of the community so that Fontbonne can truly elevate our mission for all student organizations.
If you consider yourself to be a student leader at Fontbonne, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you willing to challenge yourself to see beyond your own personal bias? Are you willing to hold yourself accountable when you make a mistake? Are you able to hold others accountable for their actions even if they are in high leadership positions on campus? You may stand up with a shaky voice, but this may make all of the difference for the overall community at Fontbonne.