William Gavin, Staff Writer

March 4, 2021

Quinnipiac University administrators gave updates about ongoing plans including changes to commuter and residential programs, social justice on campus, COVID-19, dining and sustainability at the State of the QUnion on Tuesday, March 2.

Connor Lawless

Student Government Association (SGA) President Sophia Marshall and Vice President Caroline Mello hosted President Judy Olian, Provost Debra Liebowitz, Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett, Vice President of Equity and Inclusion Don Sawyer III, Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Mark Varholak, Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Sal Filardi and Dr. David Hill, senior medical advisor.

The State of the QUnion was entirely virtual this year.  All of the panelists gathered on a Zoom webinar, while students were able to join as a participant and submit questions using the webinar’s Q&A feature. The panelists answered both questions that were submitted ahead of time to the SGA, as well as questions asked live by participating students.

 COMMUTER AND RESIDENTIAL LIFE

The university and Ellett have been getting severe backlash on their plan to instate a $90-per-semester parking fee for undergraduate commuter and off-campus students. After the announcement was made, Gabriella Colello, a junior political science and law in society double major, expressed her concerns by writing a letter to Ellett. Several students co-signed it.

“The entire reason that I (and most other commuter students) do not live on campus is because I cannot afford it,” Colello wrote in the letter. “Commuting for me and most others is not a voluntary choice, the grim reality is that despite my 4.0 GPA, maxed out transfer scholarships and various forms of student employment — I still have to take out 25k/year in loans to go here.”

      When asked about the fee at the QUnion, Ellett called the reasoning “multifaceted” and said that the university wanted to create differential advantages within the residential experience. Ellett also said that the parking price is a “benefit” for the residential students, but that the administration was looking at the university’s master plan to invest in both residential and commuter students.

      The university will be creating a “commuter assistant program” that will act as a commuter version of the resident assistant (RA) programt. Like RAs, commuter assistants will help fellow commuter students transition into being a student at Quinnipiac and offer programming and support to new students.

      Part of the university’s reconciliation efforts toward commuters is the prospect of appealing the cost on the grounds of “financial hardship.” Ellett was unable to confirm any new information about the appeal process, except that it will be handled “on a case-by-case basis.”

      “We’ll set up a process where students can put in an appeal and share why they have the final financial hardship, and we will work and look at financial aid information and so forth to make a determination,” Ellett said. “We haven’t opened up the parking process for the ’22 academic year. I think it’s a little premature in how it will be operationalized.”

      Ellett also discussed the new residential requirements for the upcoming fall semester. All enrolled students that live outside of a 25-mile drive from the university will be required to live in university housing until their sixth academic semester. Students are exempt from this requirement if they are married, have dependents or are at least 24 years old. Students are also excused from the policy for “documented hardship” or family health conditions, if they are a veteran or if they are participating in a university-approved academic experience.

“We looked at other campuses who have residential requirements to see where the line should be, and from what we saw, we think that the 25-mile radius is really where the line in the sand is,” Ellett said. “We chose 25 as where we think that students who live that far away would benefit from living in a residential experience, rather than commuting that far away from the campus.”

SOCIAL JUSTICE

      After Quinnipiac students engaged in racist behaviors, the university announced a 10-point-plan to advance racial justice and promote inclusivity on campus.  As part of that plan, the university has created a voluntary training course on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

Sawyer, who is leading the efforts to implement the 10-point-plan, said that the course is optional because they didn’t want to implement the course as mandatory during the spring semester. Instead, the voluntary course will serve as a test-run this spring, and will act as a baseline for the future mandatory version of the course. Sawyer said that they plan to make it mandatory in the future because it benefits the campus culture as well as students going into the workforce. However,  the training isn’t a foolproof plan.

“… But just for everyone to understand — the training is not a vaccination,” Sawyer said. “The training is to get everyone a baseline understanding of what we value as an institution. And so, remember, this is training, this is one step on the path to where we’re trying to be, as it relates to changing and improving our campus, climate and culture.”

There are also plans for a summer institute for faculty members to be trained on inclusive excellence practices, during which a faculty member from each school will lead them.  Additionally, the pilot program for the LGBTQ leadership retreat is taking place later this month, as is the inclusive excellence teaching lab.

Sawyer acknowledged that the university has promised an Indigenous land acknowledgment by this spring, and said that the statement will be accompanied by programs developed by a committee to help the university honor “Indigenous voices, past and present.” The statement will acknowledge the Quinnipiac indigenous peoples of the region who the university owes its name to. These actions are largely a result of a recent push for Indigenous representation on campus from independent outside activists and the Indigenous Student Union. 

COVID-19

      While the university has re-entered into the green alert level for COVID-19 cases, there are no plans to pull back on weekly testing or current restrictions. According to Hill, the school will be complying with the state’s higher education guidance,  so it will continue weekly testing for every student in March. However, he said sample-based testing in April may be changed depending on both the campus and community COVID-19 rates.

About 2,000 Quinnipiac health students have received vaccines due to their priority status, and Hill said the school will not be helping others get vaccinated. According to Connecticut’s age-based policy, most students will not be eligible for vaccination until May. The school will also continue to require vaccinated students to participate in COVID-19 testing until there is evidence that they are not able to spread the disease.

      “As we get information from the trials, and following up on those who have been vaccinated, if vaccination does indeed prevent colonization and infection then we would likely change the testing requirements,” Hill said.

DINING   

      With regards to dining, the panel of administrators touted the success of the weekly food trucks as well as the Dining Advisory Board meetings. Ellett said the food truck initiative was designed as a response to student calls for quality and variety in their food. In the first two weeks of the program, 3,210 students purchased food from the trucks.

      Ellett also said that the use of meal points has increased between 20-30 % per day compared to the last semester. He attributed this increase to the new variety from the food trucks, along with the increased options to buy bulk items. In the future, there will be an Easter plant sale, Easter baskets and gifts and catered events in which grab-and-go food will be available.

A consultant hired to look at the dining experience said Quinnipiac ranks third in the lowest meal plans in the region, partly due to the lower costs associated with the point-based plans as compared to an “all-you-can-eat” style plan. Ellett said there is a conflict of opinion between students on switching to an “all-you-can-eat” plan, despite the costs.

      “We broke down the survey by first-year student responses and upper-class and graduate responses. First-year students were a little bit more interested in an all-you-can-eat system than a point system,” Ellett said. “But upper-class students were resoundingly (saying) ‘No, we don’t, we want our point system’… so there is that kind of schism between what we’re hearing that students want.”

SUSTAINABILITY

Olian promoted the university’s sustainability strategic plan and announced the progress made. She said the university will be hiring a sustainability director for the Mount Carmel campus. The university already hired two co-chairs earlier this week to lead the Sustainability Implementation Committee, which will focus on putting the strategic plan into practice. 

“We expect to have a design for implementation of the sustainability plan with metrics and annual reporting to the campus as a commitment that we’re going to embed in our strategic plan and in the way we live, learn and lead,” Olian said.