ASUPS President Jones focuses on student concerns

By Allison Nasson

Though college campuses may be idealized by some as places where important dialogues take place and marginalized voices are elevated, at Puget Sound there remain undercurrents of frustrations that such conversations aren’t occurring.

Student Body President Nakisha Renee Jones plans to combat this issue through an initiative called Town Hall Tuesdays.

Student Body President Nakisha Renée Jones plans to create an initiative called Town Hall Tuesdays to combat a growing frustration among students that important dialogue and marginalized voices are being neglected.

Town Hall Tuesdays are monthly meetings that will provide students with safe spaces to engage in conversations about pressing issues and matters of interest. The first meeting took place on Sept. 22 and this semester will serve as a trial run for the project.

Each month will have a general topic to guide discussion. Possibilities Jones has in mind include transgender accessibility, sexual assault prevention, inclusive attitudes and behaviors, university policies and campus development plans.

However, she doesn’t want the topic of the month to inhibit students from bringing important issues to the table.

“It’s not rigid,” Jones said. “I really would love to see people come and bring their own convictions and say, hey, this is on my mind, this is on my heart, I want to talk about it.”

She hopes that by normalizing conversations that are often avoided and by deliberately constructing a safe space dedicated to elevating voices that are not always heard, students will be moved to attend and speak at meetings.

“When we reduce our walls, when we leave our masks at the door, there is so much breaking that happens, and so much growth,” Jones said.

Growth is a crucial part of the initiative. The environment Jones hopes to create is one in which everyone can voice their own opinions while maintaining an open mind to those voiced by others.

“We need a safe but uncomfortable space—it has to be safe enough for people to feel okay talking, but uncomfortable in that your views are open to actually changing or adapting,” Jones said. “It is not always comfortable or convenient, and I think that that is sometimes a deterrent. Honestly, I think a campus of apathy is present at Puget Sound… But I feel the tides are changing. I feel that there’s something that is going to be different.”

One such change Jones cites is the arrival of students to Puget Sound who will be selected by the Posse Foundation in the 2016-2017 academic year. The foundation works with campuses nationwide to provide full scholarships to students with excellent academic and leadership potential, and for whom college may not otherwise have been accessible. Diverse narra tives are vital to the conversations Jones hopes to see take place at Town Hall Tuesdays.

“In order for this to be felt by people outside of their insular communities, I think we need to make an attempt towards bringing people together and having multiple narratives come together in the same room,” Jones said.

First year Walter Fromm, who attended the first “Town Hall Tuesday” meeting in September, noted that although students were initially reserved, they quickly began to participate more openly.

“At first people were a little nervous about talking, but by about half way through people were really engaged,” Fromm said.

Jones recognized that asking people to be open to such conversations is not always an easy task.

“I find that the easiest way for me to ask people to be vulnerable is to be vulnerable myself,” Jones said. “So I try, wherever I am, to be vulnerable and not hide parts of myself if I can share, to be the first person to share, to set the tone.”

She hopes to see the project grow and be headed, eventually, by the student body itself rather than by ASUPS.

“I don’t think it necessarily has to stay as an ASUPS initiative; I’m just starting it because I feel like somebody has to try to change something. If we don’t try, nothing changes. And so, I’m trying. And this may or may not be the right method, but I think it has a lot of potential,” Jones said.

The next Town Hall Tuesday meeting will take place in the Piano Lounge on Oct. 13 from 4 to 5 p.m.