On Oct. 13, President Wim Wiewel hosted over 70 student leaders at the Cooley House in order to thank them for their contributions to the community.
Wiewel invited resident advisors (RAs), New Student Orientation (NSO) leaders and Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) representatives to the dinner reception. Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan’s office helped plan the event along with Special Assistant to the President Rachel Martinez.
During one of his speeches that night, Wiewel recognized the students present for their leadership.
“Those are the roles that are actually critical to building the community that is Lewis & Clark,” Wiewel said.
When originally planning the reception, Martinez was worried about the event being canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. However, the night went on as planned, and even had a high RSVP rate compared to previous years. According to Martinez, typically 50% of invitees respond “yes” at comparable events, but 75% responded “yes” to this event with only five no-shows.
“I think it speaks to how people are just so excited to be around each other again, to be able to connect in person,” Martinez said. “Zoom is great and it fills a void. It fills a need, but it’s just not the same.”
For Martinez, the benefits of events like this justify the work she does. In particular, she pointed to the benefit of different groups of students interacting with each other.
“It is so worth it,” Martinez said. “It is that culmination of ‘this is why we’re all here’ — it’s to serve the students. What an amazing opportunity we were just able to provide just by inviting some people to dinner.”
Students who attended the dinner had varying feelings about the event. Sammy Kutsch ’24, an RA for Forest Halls, echoed Martinez’s sentiments that the event was a nice way to bring student leaders together.
“I feel like sometimes as student leaders we are part of a group but we can feel pretty separated because of the different roles that we play,” Kutsch said.
Phoenix Cox ’24 shared similar feelings about bringing different students together.
“When you’re a leader, you end up very close in your own community, so (this dinner is) a really nice way, I think, to open that up a little bit and start some connections between different people,” Cox said.
However, Cox also said appreciating student leaders should go beyond events like the reception.
“It’s a very small way to say ‘We appreciate you, this is all that you’ve done, thank you so much,’ and it obviously doesn’t even begin to do that,” Cox said. “However, I think a more just way to honor the work and labor that student leaders provide to an institution is to pay them adequately. It’s something we’ve been discussing at ASLC for a very long time.”
ASLC Director of Allocations Alaryx Tenzer ’23 said he appreciated the event, but thought its representation of leaders on campus was incomplete.
“I feel like the definition of student leader is really … ill-defined,” Tenzer said. “Like there are people here who should be here, and then there are people who aren’t here who should be here. I’m thinking about groups that consider themselves to be student leaders on campus that aren’t represented here.”
Despite these concerns, Tenzer still felt that the event was important to attend.
“I think it’s worthwhile and it’s good for networking with other people,” Tenzer said.
For others, the novelty of the Cooley House was a main draw of the event.
“I think what drove me to attend was actually just seeing where Wim’s house is,” Dylan Blanchard ’24, who was an NSO leader said. “The president’s house was the most interesting part of this to me.”
Alexandra Flory ’24, an RA in Forest Halls, felt similarly about speaking with the president.
“Wim came up to me and spoke to me which was crazy, but fun,” Flory said. “It was like meeting a celebrity.”
ASLC Treasurer Sam Daer ’22 and Cox were both drawn to the event because of the food. For Martinez, offering students a dining hall alternative for the night was another way to show appreciation
“I don’t get to work with students very often,” Martinez said. “When I get to do things like this, it’s extra rewarding for me … to see everyone together like that and happy and appreciative and to be able to feed you all dinner that’s not Bon Appétit.”
In the Oct. 18 edition of The Bark, Holmes-Sullivan reflected on the event and future plans at the Cooley House.
“It was truly a party and the first hosted event of its size at the Cooley House since the pandemic began,’’ Holmes-Sullivan said via email. “President Wiewel and his wife Alice hope to host a Thanksgiving gathering for some students who remain on campus over the break so be looking out for an invitation very soon.”
According to Wiewel, Thanksgiving dinner for international students was a tradition he brought to LC from Portland State University, where he served as president. Martinez said she is currently organizing the dinner and if she can secure a caterer for the event, invitations will be sent out soon.