This spring, Jordanella Maluka ’23 (Stockholm, Sweden; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Kasulu, Tanzania) was elected president of Macalester College Student Government (MCSG), after serving as MCSG’s vice president and chair of the Student Services and Relations Committee. Over the next year, Maluka will work closely with Dr. Kathryn Kay Coquemont, who joined Macalester in January as the college’s dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs. We sat in on a conversation between the two leaders about building relationships, seeking feedback, and reimagining the student experience with an equity lens.

Kathryn: As a new dean of students, I’m really curious: what is your vision for your presidency?

Jordanella: I decided to run because I saw this as a platform where I could enact positive change. I want to work more closely within the whole legislative body and our committees, but also with more students. We want MCSG to be accessible and transparent.

Kathryn: I love that. What I’m hearing you say is that you want to make sure that students know that MCSG is their student government.

Jordanella: Exactly. It’s so important for us all to realize that we are a community together, and all our voices matter—and that both MCSG and the administration are ways to bring change, including through working together.

Kathryn: In a similar way, I want students to know that we are their administration, working for and with them. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything that comes across my desk. I’ve had conversations where I say, “I see it differently, but let me explain why.” At the same time, I’m also here to listen. Sometimes a student has explained why they think my perception is wrong, and I change my opinion. That relationship just needs to be more in person than virtual.

Jordanella: It’s really important to make sure all students feel like their voice is heard. How do we bring all those perspectives into decision-making? Right now, the role that international students have in our community is top of mind for me. How are their voices represented?

Kathryn: International students have been asking how we can better support them and their unique experiences, and I hope that you and Bobbie [Pennington ’24, MCSG vice president] and I will be able to move the needle there considerably. I think just simply having three people at the table with overlapping goals but also diverse perspectives will help us continue to build on the progress we’ve already made as a global community.

Jordanella: Do you see other ways to support students who have expressed feeling unheard on campus?

Kathryn: I think it’s not that students have gone unheard or that the work hasn’t been done—but that input means we’ve done it in a way that hasn’t translated, and that’s just as big a problem as if we haven’t done the work at all. We need to create ongoing feedback loops, so we don’t have to go all the way back to square one if a solution we try doesn’t work. How can we integrate every piece of that problem-solving together?

And another thing about engagement: trust-building is just harder when we’re on Zoom, and when we’re stressed out. My hope is that we can be in an environment that creates more intentional spaces for community support in times of stress, and also thinking about how we build trust in ways that sustain us not just in happy times, but when we’re in conflict.

Jordanella: I think all of this work will bring about positive change. This year I worked with the Hamre Center on increasing mental health services, which is a big topic of discussion on campus. In the recent student survey, it’s one area where people want improvement.

Kathryn: And sometimes change happens, but it looks different from how students thought they would measure it. For example, from outside the Hamre Center, it might seem like we need more clinicians—but this spring, we were able to build in more administrative roles to manage documentation and insurance tasks, so clinicians can have more time with students.

Jordanella: It’s really good to hear that update. The conversation has been on expanding their resources, but that doesn’t always mean quantity.

Kathryn: I love that reframing. We also expanded the hours for our insurance specialist, so we can work more closely with our campus-provided insurance company to bring more providers into the policy.

Jordanella: Students have lots of questions about insurance. I think it’s great to see that insurance specialists will have more hours to support students.

Kathryn: I remember not understanding what a co-pay is—as well as questions about dealing with a landlord, or picking a retirement plan in my first job. How are we preparing students better for the life we want y’all to live, first as a student and also beyond graduation?

Jordanella: Student success goes way beyond what happens in the classroom. Such a big range of factors contribute to a student’s experience on campus, and we need to always keep that in conversation when we make decisions and plan for the future.

Kathryn: That’s the big question that you and I are going to tackle together with our teams: What is fair and equitable for the student experience? That can be through any lens. It can be regarding students who are coming from other countries, or working on campus, or who might not be able to go home during winter break and need housing. Equity looks different now than it did pre-COVID.

Jordanella: A hundred percent. Last fall, we were all excited to come back together in person, but we’ve realized that we need to look at things in different ways. Just because something worked well ten years ago doesn’t mean we need to do it that way now.

Kathryn: I love that. That’s part of what we’re doing this summer: having the time and space to imagine what it can look like—and the path to get there. We’ll come back in the fall refreshed, with great ideas to find the way forward together.

July 18 2022

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