Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, May 25, 2018

Students voice concerns at 'wonk' town hall

Students voice concerns at 'wonk' town hall
Students voiced their concerns about AU\'s new \"wonk\" campaign at a town hall meeting Thursday.

Students, faculty and staff of AU filled about half of the 100 chairs set up in Mary Graydon Center rooms 4 and 5 for the town hall meeting Thursday night to express complaints, concerns, comments and questions regarding “wonk.”

Many students said they thought there was a lack of input from undergraduates in the creative process of the campaign, and others said the university chose to allocate funds inappropriately when endorsing this initiative.

Another concern was that University employees were told that they were required to wear wonk t-shirts and support the campaign.

Douglas Bell, a sophomore in the School of Communication, said resident assistants have felt their positions would be threatened if they did not wear a wonk shirt, and Sara Tornedo, the Residence Hall Association president and sophomore in the School of International Service, said she knew University employees who felt forced to wear the shirts.

After the town hall meeting, Teresa Flannery, executive director of University Communications and Marketing, stated in an e-mail that no one was told that a condition of their employment was to wear a shirt or promote wonk.

“We don’t have an expectation that everyone will embrace this, and we certainly don’t require it,” Flannery wrote.

Matt Zappala, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business, stood up in the meeting and said that because he is paying his way to go to AU entirely through loans, he thought, “it’s silly that my money is being paid for some stupid campaign ... [Among] the people I know, it’s a joke ... a $600,000 joke.”

In his comments, Bell also said that the lack of student participation in the process gave rise to the divide on campus regarding the term, and he thought it was unfortunate that the SG has to take a neutral stance on the campaign because the SG is “where the most politically active on our campus come.”

“I think it’s disappointing that our SG ... is coerced into having to take a neutral stance because the SG rightfully tries to support everyone and does not want to take the risk of isolating any particular students,” Bell said.

Sophomore in the School of Public Affairs Eric Reath said one of his biggest issues with the campaign is that he has not been able to find a student who was involved in the creative process.

“You said students were involved in focus groups – what students?” Reath said.

Reath is the speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, and Bell is the SG’s director of information technology, but the SG has passed a bill encouraging its members to remain neutral on the wonk campaign and act as a sounding board for their student constituents.

However, SG President Nate Bronstein said comments in the town hall meeting do not break the SG’s neutrality policy because those who stood up to speak were expressing their opinions as students and not in the capacity of their positions on the SG.

Thomas Minar, the vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, stood up to speak during the meeting, saying that alumni to whom he has spoken about the wonk rebranding have reacted positively.

“What people appreciated about their AU experience was that it was in D.C.,” Minar said. “The alumni that we’re talking to directly are owning [wonk].”

After the meeting, Student Government President Nate Bronstein said he was pleased with the turnout, though he did not think it was representative of the entire student body.

Bronstein said the SG would “really start looking into this and streamlining efforts.”

Another SG event for students to voice concerns will be planned for the near future, Bronstein said.

Afterwards, Flannery said she thought the meeting was productive because discussing issues face-to-face is mutually beneficial for students and administrators.

“We listened carefully and will find ways to address their concerns in implementation,” she wrote in the e-mail. “I thought the suggestions about how this should work with prospective students were particularly helpful ... The brand team meets every week and will go over what they heard and discuss ways to benefit from the feedback.”

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