Denver, CO,
08:04 AM

Why Space Matters to Your Experience


Liliana Rodriguez is the Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. She came to the University of Denver in 2015 after serving as the associate dean of diversity, inclusion and community development at Swarthmore College. Rodriguez received her B.A. in psychology from Williams College and her M.S. and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

If you haven’t already read the strategic plan for the University DU IMPACT 2025, you really should. It is all about you—centering your experience as the main focal point of the work of this institution. Throughout this year, groups of faculty and staff have been working hard on designing innovative approaches to your education, on building a cohesive and inclusive community, and on determining how best to provide you with the skills you will need to lead in a very complex world. Are we preparing you for the challenges of your time? Are you enjoying the university experience? Do you feel you belong at DU? We ask ourselves these questions a lot. And we know there are vast improvements we can make so that you answer those questions in a way that shows we are giving you the best experience academically and personally as possible.

I am approaching my second-year anniversary as your Vice Chancellor of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. In that time, I have sat down with a variety of students across campus and one of the most consistent observations you have shared with me is that, “we lack unity and school spirit.” This observation is incredibly important because establishing a sense of belonging in any community you are a part of is one of the most important safeguards to thriving in that community; you don’t take advantage of the offerings and engage meaningfully if you don’t feel like you belong. And you know what? Space matters a great deal in this regard. Space is never neutral, it impacts you, your mood, your creativity, and your social interactions. The physical environment whispers messages about what can and will happen there, about who has been there before you—it implies who belongs and who does not in subtle ways.

That is precisely why we have focused the new building initiative, approved by the Board of Trustees, on improving your experience as students. We heard your feedback—none louder than your criticism of the Driscoll Student Center. We need a space that is about that community spirit you seek, where ALL students, graduate and undergraduate alike, can create, innovate, play, get nourished, and socialize. A space where you will run into faculty and staff informally, and be able sit down for a meal with them to further develop your relationships. A place were student leaders can collaborate, organize, and implement plans to enrich the culture of our University. A place where you can get your support needs met without being bounced from one office to the other. A place that is alive with entertainment and conversation after 5pm!

Reimagining the Driscoll Student Center and providing more housing options, while simultaneously having space where students can connect with employers and alums to prepare for life after graduation is vital and long overdue.

DU leaders, myself included, know that none of these projects can be successful without your engagement and voice. Throughout the next year, there will be major opportunities to be involved; whether you want to join a student advisory or just want to share your thoughts on the design choices for the building in forums created for you—please help us create spaces that will help you develop a stronger sense of belonging. This is for you. We need you to be a part of the creation and implementation of the vision—of the space and what a One DU community can truly look like if we all come together.

I invite you to share your thoughts with me, the Chancellor, Provost and other University leaders this Thursday, May 11, from 1:30- 3 p.m. during a special forum in the Anderson Academic Commons, room 290. We will have snacks and answer your most pressing questions about this building initiative, including how it will be funded, and how you each can be involved in the process to create the best spaces for engagement and success.

I hope to see you there, but If you can’t make it, share your thoughts with me here.

This opinion editorial first published in the DU Clarion on May 8, 2017.