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President Cervelli implements 10-minute office hours

and | Monday, September 10, 2018

Saint Mary’s President Jan Cervelli, known for her annual residence hall sleepovers and appearances at the midnight breakfasts during final exams, announced in an email Aug. 30 she will be further opening her door to students by implementing scheduled office hours throughout the fall semester. These ten-minute, one-on-one meetings with Cervelli will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

An email sent to College community detailed the office hours which the administration hopes that this opportunity will encourage students to speak directly with President Cervelli about issues and concerns.

President Cervelli said she decided to host office hours in order to foster dialogue and strengthen relationships with the student body.

“We take seriously the idea that this campus community is a family and, in the busy rush of administrative responsibilities and academic schedules, I want to ensure that we make time for that essential part of what makes a family: open communications that lead to trust and understanding,” Cervelli said in an email.

The goal of these ten-minute meetings is to increase accessibility to the administration while addressing the issues and concerns of students, Cervelli said.

“I like to hear directly from students,” she said. “It’s why I often go to the dining hall at lunch and drop into Angela [Athletic & Wellness Complex] on the weekends. It’s important to stay in touch with what’s on students’ minds. Establishing a regular opportunity to have those conversations will be beneficial in strengthening the lines of communication and will deepen my understandings of the issues that most concern them. Students are at the center of all that we do, and listening to them one-on-one tells me what additional support they need, who they are and what sparks their curiosity.”

Sophomore Grace Maher said she heard about the office hours through the campus-wide email, and will be attending an office hour session with other students from the Saint Mary’s gender and women’s studies department.

“A small group of gender and women’s studies students have noticed that Saint Mary’s doesn’t have any statement of any kind in their admissions policy regarding transgender students, and while we understand that it’s a controversial issue, especially considering we’re a Catholic college, there are other women’s colleges who at least state a support statement regarding diversity, social justice or supporting students of various backgrounds applying to the colleges,” Maher said.

Maher said she feels it is important to talk about these controversial topics in a personal setting to guarantee that the subject is being heard. The conversation, she said, will be extraordinarily helpful in creating further dialogue.

“[The office hours are] a good opportunity to encourage one-on-one student-to-president conversation, especially if it’s an issue you feel needs direct attention from the president, rather than going through the various levels of administration,” Maher said. “The ten minutes can allow for a base level, a foundation to be set without needing to feel that we need to come fully prepared with a solution to whatever we’re bringing to President Cervelli.”

Maher said she hopes her meeting with President Cervelli will lead to lasting changes on campus.

“I hope that out of these conversations, we can start to enact some small changes that students feel personally affect them and affect other people that they know, and that they can really bring some big changes to the college,” Maher said.

Senior Regan Hattersley said she received the email containing details on President Cervelli’s office hours in the middle of her class.

“I was so excited, I immediately pulled up my calendar and was reading the [office hour] times,” Hattersley said. “That night I sent an email to her office requesting the first slot.”

Having signed up for a time during one of her classes, Hattersley said she was intent on meeting with President Cervelli, and arranged with her professor to leave early so she could attend.

“I’m personally interested in speaking with President Cervelli about my personal experiences being a student at Saint Mary’s that does not come from a lot of privilege,” Hattersley said.

President Cervelli’s “friendly, personable” reputation shows that she is willing to listen to the stories of students, Hattersley said, especially those with stories like hers, something she felt was lacking in other presidents and administration.

“I am a first-generation college student, and I have had several small interactions on this campus throughout my three years here … that I think she might be shocked to hear have happened to me,” Hattersley said. ”Like things that faculty and staff have said to me that I feel shouldn’t be the default way to interact with students. I don’t think there’s a lot of understanding on this campus beyond ‘college students are poor.’”

Hattersley said she hopes her story as a first-generation college student helps President Cervelli learn more about the experiences of Saint Mary’s students with various backgrounds, and enact progress towards inclusivity and diversity.

“I’m not interested in going to her with an agenda — I’m interested in going to her with my story,” Hattersley said. “It seems to me that my experience is not the norm, and I am aware of that. But I also know that I cannot be the only student that has these additional difficulties and challenges placed before them. I know that other students must have similar situations.”

Hattersley said she wants President Cervelli to be aware of the things happening on campus even if her meeting does not result in instant change and hopes that students are better accommodated on an individual level. She is especially interested in sharing stories that illustrate several instances of Saint Mary’s staff and students misunderstanding her financial situation, she said.

“‘Can’t you just ask your parents to cover it? Can’t you pay them back? Can’t you get a loan or something?’ For someone like me coming from a first generation family, I do appreciate all that my parents do for me, but they don’t have that to give,” Hattersley said. “It can be incredibly demoralizing. When that rhetoric is consistently used … it makes you feel like you’re never doing enough, or that you’re somehow wrong for not having.”

Her meeting with President Cervelli will give the president a better understanding of the struggles faced by some Saint Mary’s students, Hattersley said, and hopefully improve the lives of future generations of Belles.

“How can [Saint Mary’s] help students like me?” Hattersley said. “How can they prepare students like me? When it comes down to the individual student, what is being done? My story might inform [President Cervelli] in those respects.”

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