SGA Talks Oxford-Emory Relations

Dobbs University Center. Photo by Jason Oh/ Staff
Dobbs University Center. Photo by Jason Oh/ Staff

Students discussed the sometimes distant relationship between Oxford College and Emory College in a community conversation hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA) last week.

The conversation, titled “Bridging the Oxford-Emory Disconnect,” drew more than 30 students and faculty to Oxford College’s Candler Hall Thursday night. The event continued a series of public discussion forums that began September 2014, through Emory SGA, in an effort to encourage communication between the students, administration and SGA.

To kick off the event, Oxford SGA President and Oxford College sophomore Noah Cole welcomed the crowd to Oxford’s first ever Community Conversation and introduced Emory’s SGA Vice President and College junior Raj Tilwa.

Despite the history of the two campuses and daily shuttles running between them, Tilwa said he often feels a separation of the campuses.

He chose this topic for the community conversation after hearing about Oxford continuees’ “experiences and how their transition transpired,” noting that not all of them felt able to express themselves in their new surroundings.

“I have amazing friends who have experienced the Oxford experience and who feel that they are not able to bring all of that excitement back to Atlanta campus,” he said.

Tilwa said this made him want “to advocate for a better transitional experience.”

“[The disconnect is] something that has required so much work over the years,” he said. “I think that it always gets pushed down on people’s priorities list for some reason, and I really wanted to be very active in my approach to that.”

During the event, the audience split up into five tables and began discussing questions addressing campus interaction, academics and the Oxford-Emory transition.

Some questions from the evening included “What were some of the opportunities you had to interact with students from the Atlanta or Oxford campus (retreats/clubs/organizations/events)?,” “What was it like?” and “How can there be more of an academic and research crossover between Emory and Oxford?”

After the hour-and-a-half discussion, SGA members from both campuses had numerous short-term ideas to address, referred to as “Action Items.” One student suggested combining Oxford and Atlanta volunteer opportunities, such as the “Emory Cares” days and Alumni service events. Many freshmen spoke about having a shared day of freshmen orientation, where the whole class could meet and mingle. Additionally, Oxford students recommended including Atlanta campus events as credit for the Oxford Studies elective course, a one credit hour Oxford class that encourages multidisciplinary engagement “beyond the confines of the traditional classroom,” according to the Oxford website.

However, according to Emory SGA President and College junior Jon Darby, SGA wasn’t the only one taking notes on bridging the gap.

“[Oxford Dean for Campus Life Joseph] Moon said he has two pages of notes that he’s emailing to the deans,” Darby said. “He’s telling them ‘I’m taking these points; which of you are going to take the others?’”

Darby himself is especially excited for the opportunities within orientation.

“I think it’s going to be extremely important. We had some freshmen representatives in the University-wide SGA working toward that, and our partnerships with the Office of Student Leadership and Service should help make [joint orientation] a reality,” he said.

After orientation, the next big step many Oxford students make is their transition to Atlanta. The struggles around this change were discussed in full throughout the evening, specifically noting issues with Connections Day, a mandatory day in January where Oxford sophomores visit the Atlanta campus to get acquainted with the area, resources, faculty advisors and research opportunities.

Tilwa finds this shift crucial, and said he looks forward “to begin[ning] to improve that transitional experience for the Oxford students who will be coming to the Atlanta campus in August.”

Other students at the event also noted its success.

Oxford Freshmen Senator Caroline Abbott said that she thought the discussion went well and is eager for the chance to interact more in Atlanta.
“I’m mostly excited about the possibility of more opportunities for Oxford students at the Atlanta campus,” she said

Cole was so pleased at the outcome that he wanted to keep chatting and plans to continue dialogue around this and other issues at the Oxford campus.

“[The conversation] ended up so that I really could have stayed here for another half hour to an hour, because there was just really good discussion going on. I think it went really well,” he said. “I’m honestly thinking of using this same exact forum in the future.”

Even non-SGA members found value in the night’s conversation.

Oxford College freshman Shloka Parvatrao said she thought both campuses were open-minded in the approach to dialogue.

“I thought the meeting was really helpful, both on Oxford’s part and the Atlanta campus’ part,” she said.

One of Parvatrao’s favorite moments was the end, where they thought of things for “the next few months that would really bridge the two campuses together,” including having similar clubs from both campuses go to and support each others events. This bridging process would include understanding both colleges and creating a positive connotation about their differences.

“One thing we definitely agreed on was that each campus in different, and they offer different resources,” Parvatrao said. “The problem is there’s a communication gap. When you don’t really know about stuff, you kind of stray away from it; you don’t try it or figure it out.”

Tilwa felt a solution could start as early as renaming the topic at hand.

“I don’t like using the Emory-Oxford disconnect, like bridging the gap or whatnot,” he said. “I think I would rather phrase it as developing the Emory-Oxford connect.”

This idea of understanding and embracing the Emory-Oxford relationship is one Darby also appreciates.

“I think there’s value in President Wagner’s view of Emory as a University united and not a multi-versity,” he said. “Oxford is this sort of hidden gem at Emory. There’s something great and unique going on here and I think that we can appreciate great things for what they are, just being great things.”

— By Monica Lefton, Contributing Writer