3 reasons why you can’t miss out on the next Public Sphere Event
Put the words ‘strategic agenda, deliberative conference and future prospects’ in one email and you will have me doing my best to keep my mouse from hovering over the ‘delete’ button in my inbox. All of us are writing enough official essays and documents as it is, and it is therefore hard to find the interest or motivation to invest yourself in what seems like another official happening. I often find myself feeling like I do not have the knowledge or the position to attend meetings that have something to do with decision making or policy plans from ‘higher up’. Does this sound familiar? Then please keep reading.
‘The internet here sucks!’ ‘How do I even write a research proposal?’ ‘They don’t use the evaluation forms anyway, so why should I put effort in writing them?’ Put these things in one paragraph and I feel a wave of recognition for my own situation as well as my friends sitting next to me in class. I could probably write an essay about my frustrations regarding the chairs that do not fit the tables in Franklin. At the same time, I could give an argumentative speech about why UCR is the school where I feel both at home and academically challenged to perform at my best every week anew. I bet this sounds familiar to you too, even if you only agree with the frustration part.
Now, the above paragraphs have one thing in common; and that is that they both concern our student experiences and how those experiences make us feel about our time and education at UCR. Tuesday the 29th of November, an event named ‘The Public Sphere’ took place in our Burgerzaal in Franklin. Our own dean reflected on the matter in his own column. In an email to all staff, all faculty and all students on the 14th of November, our Dean Bert van den Brink invited basically the whole UCR population to an evening where all these experiences and feelings would be thrown out in the open, so that they could be discussed in light of the new ‘strategic agenda’ that is needed in order to give more body and structure to UCR’s ‘future prospects.’ Because that is what is at stake here: the future of our university. Don’t forget that this school is only twelve years old, my friends. As Simone Smink worded it: “Our school has not even reached puberty yet, and is still trying to find its identity in the world of education.” Now, we can be the ones to help reach that position, so here are 3 reasons why you can’t miss out on the next Public Sphere event:
- Public roasting. The evening started with seven short pitches about seven topics that need to be discussed with regard to the future of UCR. Pitches are short, thought-provoking speeches that function as charters to get a discussion going. In his speech, the Dean told all of us that he instructed all speakers to speak the cold-hearted truth, and that their words were allowed to hurt a little. They sure delivered. Especially the talks by Professor Burke and student Marije Sluiskes on Undergraduate Research and UCR’s Facilities respectively were powerful roasts about all things that lacked, all things that went wrong and all things that were ridiculous. (insert chairs not fitting tables again). A bit shakily, the Dean took over the microphone again and laughed and said: ‘Autsj’. However, it was all okay, because the atmosphere was supportive and open, and everyone felt ready to work on solutions to the problems that were mentioned. All the other pitchers too did not hesitate to express their worries and critiques, but there was also a lot of space for reflection upon the things that UCR really excels at. All in all, I don’t mean that you should attend the Public Sphere to enjoy the drama (yes, that was just click bait), but that an open discussion where people are very much encouraged to express their disagreement, instead of keeping it between classmates or faculty members. It’s a very healthy way of working towards solutions to these frustrations, and it is very important that all of us attend moments like these. We must keep ourselves informed.
- Your ideas matter. After these pitches, it was time to discuss. This was done in a very efficient, but also a very well divided manner. All attendants were equally spread over the seven topics at seven tables. Each table had a mix of students, staff and faculty, and this allowed indeed for opinions and experiences from both sides of each spectrum. The Burgerzaal was filled with excited murmuring, people were taking notes, debating with each other, listening to each other, and the overall vibe was very productive. Each group worked toward a list of problems and a list of solutions, which would then again be presented in a short pitch and the end of the discussion timeslot. I believe that we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved on such a small and intimate scale. Our ideas truly matter; we are, so to speak, the end products of this whole organization. The Dean and other faculty couldn’t stress enough how much they appreciated that we shared our ideas, and this is another big reason why the Public Sphere is important. It’s because we are the people that keep this University College going, but if we lose touch with the people that want to educate us, and if the people that need to educate us lose touch with what makes their jobs worthwhile, our Honours spirit will slowly fade away. Or, as Professor Burke said at the end of his speech: “Will you be the one to turn of the light…Or will you reignite the flame?”
- Also, there were great sandwiches and soup for dinner. A continuous flow of tea, coffee and cookies during the discussions kept everyone warm in the freezing cold of the Burgerzaal. Additionally, the wine and cheese sticks during the reception were yummy.
All these factors contributed to a relaxed environment, and I am sure that many of the best ideas of the evening were thought of during the reception, where everyone could mingle and chat to anyone they wanted to speak with. It was an evening of spirited discussions between equals, and it’s already in this event that I see a good future for UCR.
So, if you ever read an email again that mentions the concept ‘strategic agenda’, don’t delete it just yet. Instead, take a minute to think of the fact that it may be a call for help, a chance for you to have a valuable say in what will happen the next four years. By the time our teenage University then reaches the age of sixteen, we might all sigh and say; “Wow, puberty, you did well.”
Gerjanne Hoek, Class of 2018, is a Linguistics, Politics and History major from Bunschoten-Spakenburg, the Netherlands.