You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

EDITORIAL | Town halls do a good job of informing Penn State community, but must incorporate more voices to enact better change

OldMain

Old Main on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 in University Park, Pa.

The idea of a town hall meeting typically carries a political connotation.

Images of politicians campaigning at local cities, fielding the questions and concerns of the community, while providing possible solutions serve as the stereotype for what town halls act as.

A town hall meeting brings a sense of collectivism to a community, attempting to further the discussion on certain topics that impact the well-being of all. Penn State is no stranger to this as the university often plays host to town halls that address prevalent issues on campus.

The most recent occurred on Nov. 8 where Penn State President Eric Barron hosted a virtual town hall regarding the rise in sexual misconduct incidents this semester. At the time, Penn State was made aware of 19 known forcible sex offenses. As of Nov. 15, that number increased to 22 offenses.

Barron was joined alongside a panel of faculty members and a student to show listeners the efforts made by the university to combat sexual misconduct.

The information provided by the panel was good to hear on behalf of students and the rest of the community alike. It was an important moment for Penn State to try to disseminate information about a topic that has upset much of State College by giving prominent people who are knowledgeable on sexual assault a platform.

Despite the great information provided from this, the university’s town halls still contain flaws that can be corrected by Penn State to spread even more awareness.

This town hall had questions that were pre-submitted before the event, allowing the panel to prepare answers ahead of time. And while the answers provided were conveyed well, knowing what will be said prior lacks a sense of organicness in the conversation.

Statements shouldn’t be prepared to act as a form of university PR, rather, the questions should be asked in a live format to allow for a discussion among the concerned. Also, Penn State should strive to answer all questions and not just those that are easy to confront.

A town hall is not the right medium to provide the public with new information. If the university wants to continue to host these events to make the community aware, that’s fine — just don’t call it a town hall.

Rebranding the town hall to a press conference or an announcement seems more fitting for the business being conducted. These can then be followed up by an actual town hall where people can raise questions on a whim.

Additionally, the university can continue to prepare remarks and statements that it feels are essential to the discussion while also fielding questions from the audience. But the current town halls make it seem as if Penn State has already made its decision on certain topics and is using these meetings to let the community know what they are — not engage in discussion with the people experiencing these issues every day.

Town halls must encourage greater dialogue but there also needs to be people to create such conversations, including students. Penn State is already doing all it can to make the community aware of town halls, it’s on the students to follow through.

Each morning students receive an email from Penn State News, which provides ample information regarding current news on campus, including when town halls will be held. There are also multiple student media outlets that cover town halls that students can rely on.

Yet, the tone of the meetings doesn’t seem fit for students, because they often come across as a mechanism for the university to make itself look good rather than talk about how these issues affect the student body.

From a leadership perspective, it’s essential for Barron to hold the town halls in their true nature by listening to the community. He must solicit the input and advice of the faculty, staff and students who are being affected by his decision making.

Other important issues that deserve attention may slip through the cracks unless brought up in the heat of the moment like a live Q&A. Barron most likely isn’t reading every complaint email being sent, so he may not know of other issues persisting on campus.

While his tenure is nearly complete that doesn’t mean Barron can’t improve upon the way he will be viewed when it’s over. It’s not too late to obtain more respect from the university, something that can be achieved by truly listening to what the community has to say.

Despite the flaws of the current format, the town halls are at least attempting to bring awareness to the Penn State community on serious issues.

Allowing experts to speak and provide their insight should create a sense of trust for those listening. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barron and the university brought in medical researchers to provide proper insight on the disease.

Even if the town hall isn’t ideal and not the format people might expect, it cannot be denied that the administration is attempting to educate the Penn State community. And by incorporating the voices of students more, the university will be able to achieve a greater sense of change — something it desperately needs.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.

Support Student Journalism

Your contribution will help the Collegian provide award winning journalism to the Penn State community and beyond.

Donate to the Collegian by clicking the button below.

Newsletters