NECHE team student forum discusses on-campus opportunity, student protests, financial transparency

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Photo: Sydney Ciardi

Students in the Little Building

By Adri Pray, News Editor

Five Emerson students gathered in the SPC Black Box Theater Monday afternoon to meet with two representatives from the New England Commission of Higher Education team as part of Emerson’s 10-year re-accreditation plan.

Vice President of Campus Life at Bates College Dr. Joshua McIntosh and Director of Assessment and Institutional Research at Middlebury College Adela Langrock said the visit is an evaluation of the student body in relation to the self-study Emerson published earlier this year. The re-accreditation process allows degrees from colleges and universities to maintain value over time. Because the forum was described as a “psychological evaluation” of the student body, the students quoted will remain anonymous.

“A lot of this stuff is about clarity, it’s about transparency, it’s about the financial viability of the institution, these sorts of dependent very basic elements of academic integrity,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh and Langrock evaluated the students against nine standards, including academic programs, institutional resources, and educational effectiveness, among others. They first asked about the on-campus social justice protests from 2015, 2017, and 2020—what emerged from them, and where are students on the issue now?

The 2015, 2017, and 2020 on-campus protests sparked motion on issues of social justice in and outside of the classroom. Students involved in the 2020 protest created a list of demands to hold Emerson accountable, which created the student organization compact outlining diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements. 

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One student said he felt encouraged to talk about his racial identity with his peers after transferring to Emerson. While he felt students could freely discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion, he said other aspects of Emerson felt more performative, pointing out the community’s lack of commitment to putting on Jasmine Hawkins’ musical, Jelly’s Last Jam, the first Black musical to be on an Emerson stage.

“I think students of color can get really frustrated, because sometimes it feels like we don’t even want to do this systemic work because [we’re] just trying to be students,” he said. “There are a lot of layers to it, and it just feels like sometimes when there’s an actionable plan you don’t necessarily get the full support because it’s too much, but I think it’s really complex. There’s a lot to be talked about about racial identity on campus.”

McIntosh also asked the students if they felt Emerson curated an on-campus environment that prepared them for life after graduation, specifically noting the opportunities and resources for students to access.

One student noted the Career Development Center, while not advertised to students as much as it should be, is a great resource for finding the next steps in your career. Most students start using this resource in their junior year, he said, as it’s not advertised as much as other resources.

Another student noted that incoming first-year students are rarely concerned with post-graduation plans, and many students would agree that utilizing the center often isn’t a priority while at Emerson.

“I just had to call [the Career Development Center] today about grad school,” she said. “They have so many resources and they’re so helpful, but it’s very much on you to reach out and I feel like it seems very optional.”

McIntosh and Langrock finished the session by asking the students their thoughts on the cost of tuition at Emerson, McIntosh specifically citing the debt load to be “relatively low in terms of the national landscape.”

One student said she received her financial aid information three months after the posted date in her portal—and this was after reaching out to the office over 10 times. Another student said she was redirected to other offices multiple times when she tried calling the Financial Aid Office seeking answers. Someone else mentioned Emerson’s financial aid portal needs to be restructured as he couldn’t tell where the dollar amounts and description of the charge lined up.

Overall, each student noted a lack of transparency regarding where their money was going. None of the five students felt confident in the answers the college provided, and many expressed they still had questions for senior administration.

“I had to email two different people just to get an itemized bill and even the official bill can be so extremely vague on what you’re paying for,” one student said. “It’ll be like ‘miscellaneous fee for $3,000,’ what is the money going towards, who am I paying?”

The NECHE team findings will be shared with Emerson community members at a community forum in the coming months.