Graduating for a Cause: This Year’s Commencement as a Call to Action

Those who attended this year’s Commencement exercises may have noticed some of the graduands wearing the above sticker, either on their caps or on their arm. This was part of a coordinated initiative that some members of the class of 2019 chose to engage in.

The image shows a power fist, a traditional symbol of movements of liberation for communities of color, in front of the pride flag, which has become a symbol for LGBTQIAP+ communities and movements.

We chose both images to reflect our experiences of discrimination during our years on the Hilltop. Many of us have been made to feel unwelcome or inferior just because of who we are, whether at the hands of various individuals or institutional patterns of commission and omission. While we recognize that such treatment was often—though certainly not always—inflicted without the intent to do so, we have felt the hurt all the same.

Those of us who engaged in this protest action believe that such marginalization has no place in the institution that we have called ‘home’ for the past four years. Therefore, at the end of 4 years of trying to make a difference, we took this one final step to highlight the urgent change that is needed across the board, from athletics to the monastery and everyone in between.

Yet there is also another issue at stake than what I just described. As far as we know, no class has ever organized a protest action during their own Commencement, which frustrates us. There is a general lack of political engagement at Saint Anselm College, and we took this last opportunity we had on the Hilltop to break with this phenomenon.

What I’m talking about is best visualized by the following two paradoxes. Saint Anselm College is nationally recognized for its high levels of student involvement in volunteer and outreach work, both in Manchester and beyond. Yet, there is a lack of corresponding culture of issue-based advocacy, which would look like students mobilizing to end the very issues that compel their volunteer work in the first place.

For example, how many of us have volunteered at soup kitchens without mobilizing for policies to end unemployment, poverty, or hunger? Volunteering without advocacy is unfortunately never going to solve these issues.

Second, Saint Anselm College boasts of the internationally-renowned NH Institute of Politics, which attracts politically-minded individuals from all over the world to enroll as a student or speak as an honored guest. Yet, students cannot seem to conceive of what ‘politics’ would mean beyond mere partisanship; many of our students who consider themselves ‘politically active’ only go as far as volunteering for campaigns or interning at various public institutions.  

Of course, we need Hawks to continue volunteering in their communities and getting involved in electoral politics, because our school equips us with the knowledge and resources to make a difference. Yet we also need to broaden our conceptions of ‘service’ and ‘politics’ to include occupying the public space and fighting for a better world.

How could we do this? Organized, issue-driven student campaigns, coordinated civil actions, public gatherings and demonstrations, and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns are all ways students can get involved. By engaging in these types of actions, we become part of a tradition of direct, participatory democracy that is fundamental to our country’s heritage and ongoing vitality. We can take the first step confidently, knowing that we are surrounded by those who have walked this path before us.

Therefore, those who participated in this action hope that we can serve as a source of inspiration for those who remain on the Hilltop. We are also confident that our small act will not go unnoticed.

Education, service, and advocacy are all linked—we can’t create change without all three. In many ways, our unique Anselmian experience points us toward a convergence of all three. Our drive to serve is cultivated. Our access to information is provided. Now, all we need are outlets to make our voices heard.

Thus, with this final action, we are calling on those who remain to continue the work we tried but failed to accomplish. This campus is already renowned for its food, its Benedictine hospitality, and its ethos of volunteering; it’s time to make it renowned for its student activism.

The Dire Need for More Dorms on Campus

For students at Saint Anselm College, the housing lottery is a time of unneeded stress, worry, and most of all uncertainty. As my classmates and I, all rising sophomores at Saint A’s attended the housing lottery on Wednesday, April 10, we soon began to see that the housing issue on campus is far more inefficient and inadequate than it first appeared to be. As soon as we took our seats in Sullivan Arena, the administration of the college informed us that the majority of us in the stands would not receive a room that night, as all dorms are currently filled at this point. Sure enough, this was the brutal and unacceptable truth, as all rooms were occupied by the time we reached lottery numbers in the 1100s (out of 1470).

It now stands as fact that at least 60 sophomore boys are on a waitlist for housing. Not a waitlist for a certain dorm. Not a waitlist for an apartment. A waitlist to receive a stand-alone, double room for the next school year. The solution presented to us by the administration is that they are relying on students to transfer, study abroad, or relocate around campus in order to accommodate the 60 students on a waitlist for a room. As if this was not an insult to the students already. Speaking for me, my parents and I sacrificed greatly for me to attend my dream school, being Saint Anselm College. I spent my whole senior year applying for scholarships to help offset the cost of college, working hard in high school to achieve great grades, and overall working at least 30 hours a week during the summer to try and pay for school. As it stands, we are all currently paying $14,750 to live on campus.

I am paying $14,750 for the administration of the school to say that there are no rooms available anymore. I was told that at the beginning of the housing lottery that in order to live on campus, I should really consider an incentive triple. To be told that I will be placed in housing eventually and that the school doesn’t have the capacity to house everyone forces this to be an unacceptable issue, and it has reached a point where it is not okay. What the school is doing to their students is insincere, and most of all deceitful to those of us who were promised to live with our class. We are the heart of why Saint Anselm is still operating today. Without prioritizing students, without fulfilling promises to them, the reputation of Saint Anselm College is being severely damaged by the apparent lack of transparency of where there are problems on campus.

I remember when I toured here that Saint Anselm was known for keeping their classes together, for fostering a sense of community, and for being a small school where everyone looks out for each other and supports one another. But by telling rising sophomores that they do not have housing for the next school year yet and will be placed depending on when space becomes available, is disappointing and directly attacks the values of community, transparency, and respect at this school.

It has come to the point where some students are now considering transferring schools because of the lack of that has been given to us with this housing crisis on campus. Furthermore, it appears as if there are no active efforts to build more dorm buildings for the future. In fact, the goal of this school right now is to expand our student body and promote the college with increasing class sizes by the year. However, Saint Anselm cannot keep over-admitting students. We simply do not have the capacity to hold any more students, and the fact that this mistake is still being made without effort to build more housing is discouraging and upsetting to the student body.

Furthermore, it also concerns me and many others that the college’s priorities lie in the construction of a “Welcome Center” to attract new students to the school. Why are we spending money on a welcome center when we cannot house all students on campus at the current moment? Why are we allocating funds from the budget towards the construction of a building that will not have any effect on the housing crisis on campus? If this college wants to expand, they need to have the facilities and resources to do so. A welcome center is clearly not a necessity for current students who are attending and paying tuition to keep the college running as normal.

As I walk around campus, it is clear that students are frustrated with the lack of support the school is giving them. It seems as if we are not the school’s first priority, we are not being treated fairly, and most of all we are not receiving what we were promised when enrolling as freshmen. This situation is not only disappointing, but it will begin to reflect very poorly on the school’s reputation.

The only solution to this current crisis is to build more housing. Invest the money into a new dorm, invest the money into new apartments for juniors and seniors, and then Saint Anselm’s goal of increasing the size of the school will be realistic and achievable. Investing in the future of this school is constructing more capacity to house current students. This is a crisis that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. To the students, there are no more excuses as to why action is not being taken. We need what we were promised, and if we do not receive that, the consequences for the school will be detrimental.