It started like any other RA event: Posters were made and hung around campus that read “Kennedy Courtyard Remodeling” set for May 3. But something went wrong and what sounded like a fun event ended up as a controversial matter on campus.
The Kennedy Courtyard had been a wild and isolated space on campus where the New Mexican weather had allowed for a healthy ecosystem to grow and where birds and other small animals used to live. Some students also used this as a retreat from the stress and the crowded environment of the school.
And so it was a shock for many of the students to find out on Facebook that most of the trees that used to be in the courtyard had been cut down. The first post that appeared on the student page was from film student Jessica Cornelius.
“This was my favorite part of this campus,” Cornelius’ comment stated. “Our courtyard was like a fairy wonderland, did we not think that it was beautiful?”
Concerns regarding the trees were shared by many students: How could something like this happen?
The idea for the courtyard remodeling was planned some time ago, and the event created by RA Morgan Bryant was one of the monthly events RAs generate for residents and students. As part of the event, new plants were going to be planted and only the dead trees were going to be cut down. Bryant’s plan, however, did not go as she expected—a miscommunication between facilities and the planners occurred and as a result the trees were cut down.
“I was hoping for people to show up for the event and make it into a fun outdoor activity for students, and to bring the campus together,” Bryant says. “But when I got to the courtyard I saw that the trees were gone. I was shocked and frustrated, but I still tried to finish the event and we were able to plant some of what we had intended on in the first place.”
But the mistake had been made and a discussion began on Facebook. Cornelius’ previous comment resulted in 30 responses.
“When I was younger I always used to celebrate Earth Day and I used to do things for the environment. It is still a part of me and I will always stand up for what I believe in,” Cornelius says. “I think the shots weren’t fired until I posted that comment on Facebook.”
Sure enough, students demanded answers. One of these students was William Filho who, for spiritual reasons, was very upset and addressed Student Voice on the issue.
After Filho’s comment, an immediate answer came from Student’s Voice President Rachel Shuford and from the Director of Campus and Residential Life John Rodriguez.
“Now, it’s time to move forward,” said Shuford on her Facebook comment. “I want to turn this into an opportunity where we can create something for the students by the students, since I can tell this means so much to all of you.”
Student Voice and Rodriguez held a forum on May 7 in Kennedy’s main lounge and a polite debate took place in which students were able to voice their concerns and get answers.
“I take full responsibility in the matter, and I apologize, this was never our intention,” Rodriguez said. “But I am happy that you communicated your concerns. I don’t want for students to be afraid to speak up. We are not scary people; we are here to listen.”
During the forum, Shuford shared a plan she had created, along with Student Voice, for the future of the courtyard in which students will be able to participate in creating a new space. This plan includes reaching out to experts in the matter of plants that are indigenous to New Mexico and creating a new area where students can go to when they need to find peace.
“We have such a beautiful campus and outdoor places are good for the creative process,” Shuford says. “We want to create a beautiful place outside that is different from the Quad. Where students can go to and where they can feel at home. And of course we want students to participate in creating it.”
Although the trees are now gone and a special place is lost, there is a great opportunity ahead for students to create a new place to coexist with nature and for it to thrive.
This was also an opportunity and an example of how students can make a difference around campus by voicing their ideas in a polite and reasonable matter so that an issue can be heard and changed. Mistakes are made all the time, but what is important at the end are the solutions that come afterward.