From the first day of the ACUI conference, I kept hearing people describe college unions with the same sort of phrases: as the center or the living room or the heart of a college campus, etc. There are so many metaphors to describe a college union, that I would not have fully realized if I did not attend ACUI. In fact, it was not until I saw Denise Frohman, an unapologetically queer, Latina poet who spoke about the power this organization like Union Board holds. Union Board, through its programming and advising to the Union, gives students a place at Indiana University. Whether it is through joining and becoming a director, attending Union Board’s events, or simply using the South Lounge as a study space, students feel like they have a space on our campus.
Perhaps my favorite part of ACUI were the educational sessions and one in particular also talked about the importance of providing a space to our students. This session was called “The Role of College Union in Developing Student’s Sense of Community.” Here, I learned the psychological importance of providing physical spaces and programs to our students. I resonated with this point because, during my freshman year, I did not feel like I had a space on this large campus. It was not until I saw Octavia Spencer and learned about the inclusivity of Union Board, that I became involved. This presentation confirmed what I know we, as a board, need to work on. It is absolutely crucial that we work to improve inclusivity, diversity, representation, etc. in our organization. At our board meeting last week, I spoke to directors about starting an initiative where we intentionally plan responsive programs that stand in solidarity with our minority students that are affected by the mass-tragedies occurring in our world today, but it is also necessary to plan programs that celebrate our unique identities. This is crucial because our identities are rarely assessed inside of the classroom. One of my directors noted that Union Board is the reason he remains at Indiana University. To some of our students, our Union is the space that proved them a place on this campus. It is where people, no matter your major, your ideology, or your background can come together and forget about the stress of college life.
Another session I attended was called “Does White Privilege Exist in Your Student Union?” that was absolutely mind-boggling. I have never thought of the importance and impact that artifacts, portraits, and other forms of artwork displayed throughout the Union, would have on our students. By not having a diverse array of art from a diverse array of artists at the Indiana Memorial Union, we are further marginalizing our students. Luckily, Mara, Hank and I have identified that this is a problem and working with the CANVAS committee to obtain artwork directly from our students to make the Union more representative. From this session, I learned that we cannot only have to identify the problem, but also work with students to find the solution.
I am grateful to have gone to this conference. In January, when I was transitioning to my role, I was not sure how a weeklong conference centering on college unions would play out. But, it is now April, the first half of my term is nearly finished, and because of ACUI, I feel more motivated than ever. I am excited for the 2020 President and what they will learn, and to be frank, I am a little jealous that they get to go Atlanta. Nonetheless, I am extremely grateful to JWS for providing me the opportunity.
Thanks to the generous support of the John Whittenberger Society Advisory Board, Union Board President Patricia Cornejo attended the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Annual Conference, March 24-28 in Indianapolis.