Hanlon hosts weekly "Ask Me Anything" sessions at dining hall

by Caitlin McCarthy | 10/4/19 2:05am

This fall, College President Phil Hanlon is trying out a new tactic to form a closer relationship between students and the administration: lunches at the Class of 1953 Commons.

At least once a week through Nov. 6, Hanlon and a senior administrator from the College will hold lunchtime “Ask Me Anythings.” The lunches encourage students to “share questions or comments about life at Dartmouth” over a Foco meal, according to a College press release. Students are able to drop in and out as they please.

This week’s guest was dean of the College Kathryn Lively, and upcoming guests include provost Joseph Helble, executive vice president Rick Mills and athletics director Harry Sheehy. The lunches began as an initiative by Carlos Polanco ’21 and vice president for communications Justin Anderson, with planning beginning last spring.

Polanco said that the AMAs are designed for the administration to “meet students where they’re at.” 

Anderson echoed this sentiment, saying that the goal of the lunches is to improve communication between students and senior administration officials. He added that Hanlon’s office hours have always been an option for any member of the Dartmouth community to speak with Hanlon, but that students have to make the conscious decision to go to the office. 

Anderson said the lunches are a way for the administration to “communicate priorities, as well as policies and process to students,” while students can also utilize the AMAs to “effectively communicate … their priorities.”

In an email, Hanlon wrote that he chose to include a member of the faculty alongside him at the AMAs so that students would have the chance to communicate with the administration officials who are most directly responsible for the multitude of sectors that encompass Dartmouth’s activities.

Six students, including Polanco, attended this past Wednesday’s lunch — an increase from the week before when a few freshmen attended, according to Hanlon. The meeting lasted a little over an hour. Topics of conversation brought up by students included the inequities of the new housing access restrictions, issues of food insecurity during winter break, proposals for a multicultural center, a new way to help students transition to STEM classes and the experiences of Latinx students. 

Katya Pronichenko ’23, who attended the lunch because of questions she had about Dartmouth Dining Services, said that she thought it went “very well.”

“I was very excited that President Hanlon and Dean Lively were taking suggestions and questions and answering students’ concerns,” Pronichenko said. 

Polanco said that they are testing multiple methods of advertising to see what is most effective in drawing attendees to the lunches, including signs in the dining hall, posts on Instagram and emails to the student body.

Jack Traynor ’19 Th ’20, a co-captain of the football team, said that one barrier to students attending the lunches was a conflict of time. 

“[The football team has] a lot of stuff going on right after lunch,” Traynor said. “Maybe if we had more time and had some more pressing questions.”  

Isabel Parks ’20 voiced her concerns about the project in general. 

“I feel like they have all these events, but they’re not really listening to the student body,” Parks said. “I think it’s more for show than anything else.” However, she expressed interest in attending a future meeting.

Anthony Ball ’23 said that he views the initiative positively, because it means that the administration is being more accessible. 

Anderson asked students to come with suggestions of their own as to how communication can improve. 

“If students think there are other ways that they’d like to hear from the president or from the administration, tell us; come to the lunch and tell us how we can do better,” Anderson said. 

Polanco maintains that forming a relationship between students and administration will take time. 

“We’re trying to change a culture that’s 250 years old, which is very, very difficult,” he said. 

Polanco added that he believes students should recognize both what the College is doing right and what it could do better. 

To students who may be on the fence about attending the meetings, Polanco said, “There’s no harm in coming in and voicing your concerns.” 

He predicted that, over time, students will “see [the lunches] as more commonplace,” which he said will help increase participation.

The next AMA will be held on Oct. 7 and will feature Anderson as the guest.