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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

GUEST COLUMN: Open door policy, closed door practices: IU’s systematic silencing of student voices

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After standing outside of the closed doors of the IU Board of Trustees meeting March 1, we fear that there are no channels remaining for students to be heard by the administration of Indiana University. We’re students who drove four hours round trip from IU Bloomington to IU Southeast, dressed in professional attire, to attend the first Board of Trustees meeting of 2024. Our goal was to observe the meeting and establish a relationship with the Trustees on behalf of the Indiana Memorial Union Board, which is the governing body of the IMU.  

The Board of Trustees is IU’s governing board, legal owner and final authority. They represent the public’s best interest and set the mission of the university. Their decisions shape every aspect of the institution, from leadership to policies. If the Board is dismissive of students, then the whole university follows suit.  

The Indiana State Code requires that Board of Trustee meetings are open to the public under the Open Door Law. Indiana's Public Access Laws Handbook explains that “[p]ublic meetings should be held in a location that can accommodate all members of the public who wish to attend.” Essentially, this law grants anyone the right to attend these meetings and indicates that they should be organized as such. 

Our experience did not meet our expectations of “public.” Upon our arrival, all 16 public seats were filled. After being denied entry, we sat outside of the closed meeting doors, silently facing three security guards. These guards said that they select small rooms to manage security threats. They offered us an optional room which live streamed the meeting, but opting for it meant losing our spot in the queue and our chance to speak with any Trustees. This is not an uncommon occurrence for students trying to attend a Trustees meeting; another student lamented that this was the second time they’d been denied entry.  

These meetings deliberately limit student engagement. Most seats are reserved for administrators, live streaming takes place only on-site, and standing room is prohibited. Worse, they fail to warn the public of the limited available capacity and fail to adapt security that supports more attendees. Even if someone does get a seat, the Board’s scripted presentations offer no engagement — nor any forum or required breaks to create casual dialogue.  

The design of the already infrequent Trustees meetings fit a pattern of choices from IU leadership that have effectively silenced the voices of students. After Union Board’s 60+ collaborations across student organizations, academic departments and Bloomington businesses in the past year, we’ve heard groups’ experiences of being dismissed by administrators. Whether it is simply a student group asking for transparency on decisions that directly impact them, or students asking for action to make our campus safer for diverse groups, it is clear that administrators only want to hear the student voices that fit neatly into their agenda. Their preoccupation with promoting a perfect, shiny image of IU leaves them unwilling to address the reality of the student experience and actually work towards improvement. We naively assumed that at the very least the public Trustee meetings could be an avenue for us to share our concerns. We realize now that they too promote the pervasive, structural silencing of student voices.  

IU’s 2030 Strategic Plan, the guiding force for administrative decisions, emphasizes the commendable principles of an “insatiable quest for knowledge” and a “culture of respect and integrity.” But when that quest for knowledge leads a student to merely attending meetings or questioning university decision-making, or when that respect and integrity is to be granted to students, these principles are disregarded. We hope that the administration of this university can begin to live up to the values proclaimed by the 2030 Strategic Plan and make an authentic effort to reverse the disenfranchisement of students. Students, we must continue advocating for change and demanding our rightful place in shaping this university. Our voices will not be silenced.  

 

Laurie Frederickson (she/her) is a junior double majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She is also the current president of the 115th Indiana Memorial Union Board (2024).  

Gabriella Couloubaritsis (she/her) is a senior majoring in Entrepreneurship & Corporate Innovation. She was the president of the 114th Indiana Memorial Union Board (2023). 

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