When I heard that the UMD administration would be holding a student focus group, I was skeptical that it would not actually be a forum but another disappointing town hall where the Q & A portion was mere formality. I attended the focus group with low expectations- and I’m happy to report that they were surpassed. It seems, at last, that the university is genuinely willing to factor people’s concerns into their response to the pandemic.
Held on Thursday the 25th and running approximately from 6:30 to 7:15- around 45 minutes- the event, right from the beginning, had a different atmosphere from some of the other events I had attended. Instead of several members of the administrative staff staring the camera down intimidatingly, it was one person calmly and politely inviting people to ask questions.
Having one moderator seemed to really make a huge difference; people were not apprehensive about sending in questions and concerns, because it felt like there was a greater chance they’d actually be listened to. Displayed on screen alongside the moderator was a PowerPoint, with prepared questions and reminders. This was a small detail of the event that I actually really appreciated, because it made it feel more professional and engaging. I also enjoyed the fact that the “question and answer” chat was totally private; it felt like I had total freedom to say what I wanted to say, directly to someone who has power within the university.
Overall, though in the past I’ve been vocally critical of the University’s dodginess when it’s come to tough questions, I have to give credit where credit is due: UMD seems to be willing to take people’s criticisms seriously. At the very least, they’re no longer shying away from inviting public comment. Thursday night was a display of true openness and engagement, and they’d be wise to keep it up.