By Ülvi Gitaliyev and Lily Barnette
On October 18th, the Berea College Student Government Association announced a survey on convocations. Students responses was immediate. Over 100 had completed the survey within a few hours. 526 students, approximately 37% of the student body, had responded the survey by November 14th, when the survey was closed.
So, what did the survey results tell us about students views on convocations? Not surprisingly, students were not very happy with the way that convocations had been going this semester. For example, many students complained about the “Songs of Slavery and Emancipation” convocation, which last almost three hours on a Sunday. The number of religious convocations this semester also raised complaints from the student body. Some students praised the Stephenson Memorial Concert Convocations, though wished that there could be more musical and theatre related convocations. The biggest and most prevalent complaint though was the very concept of mandatory convocations themselves. Over 100 people wrote in the survey that they could not understand why students were forced to attend 7 convocations every semester. According to Berea College the answer is “These events present outstanding personalities who enliven the intellectual, aesthetic and religious life and perform an important educational role. These Convocations also provide common intellectual experiences for students, faculty, and staff leading toward the establishment of a unified academic community.”
Ironically, what the survey results show us is that actually, the “unified academic community” comes from complaining about convocations rather than enjoying or learning from them, as seen from student responses to the survey. We curated some of the most insightful responses to the survey:
- “There has to be a better system. Back in 2017 when I was a traditional student, the disrespect in the audience to the speaker was not this severe. As much as I didn’t like convos back then, I was shocked when I came back after 3 years off and saw the students leaving the building before 4:15, falling asleep, using headphones, laughing and booing the speaker.”
- “I have panic attacks in large crowds and especially in chapels because of religious trauma and I consistently have panic attacks at every convo unless it is online. It is literally to the point where I talk to my therapist about my fear of convos.”
- “I am a non-trad student with a 3-year-old, im stressed, and overwhelmed, and it seems like everything Berea has set up makes it impossible for me to stay afloat. If anything let non-trads watch all of the convos from the eco commons. That would be life-changing in itself. But also being a parent, having labor and being a full-time student. I don’t get to go to a dorm and do homework immediately. I go pick up my son, feed him, bath him, on good days play with him, put him to bed, struggle getting him to sleep, once he’s asleep I tidy up the apartment and then maybe if I’m lucky to start homework at 10 or 11 pm. Anytime I can I use the hours when I’m not in class or labor to do uninterrupted homework. So this hour ends up being an hour and 30 minutes after getting my card scanned and working my way through the crowd of people. That’s 1.5 hours of uninterrupted homework time I could have, which is a luxury to non-trads. Please please consider not making this a requirement for non-trads or lowering the amount non-trads need to 3. I could survive going to 3 a semester with being a parent. I’ve been a traditional student and while convos were boring they weren’t as life-invading as they are now being a parent/non-trad.”
When looking at the answers to individual questions, here are the results that deserve the most attention. Only 2.3% (12) of students would still go to 7 or more convocations if they were no longer mandatory. Also, over 1/3 of respondents (169) admitted to having use their phones for a significant period or even majority of the convocations. Most shockingly, a majority of students (285) have admitted to falling asleep during at least one convocation.
The issues with convocations has become quite clear. So, what are some possible solutions to the woes of students? Firstly, the number of convocations required each semester could easily be lowered from 7 to 5, as it was for the last two semester. Another innovation would be to expand what events on campus are worthy of convocations. For example, the Bell Hooks Center invites activists to speak about their struggles and achievements every semester and yet, none of these events are worth convocation credit. There are also many musical events performed by a variety of diverse bands that also do not get considered for convocations. If the number of convocations offered each semester could be expanded to 20, then students would have more choice to listen to speakers and music that appeals to them, instead of falling asleep or using our phones and thereby disrespecting the speaker. If all and more ideas can be implemented, then hopefully, the word convocation will no longer produce a sigh from the average Berea College student.
The full results of the convocation survey can be viewed in the slideshow below: