By Ruby Churchill
Questions were answered and cookies were eaten at the Fireside Chat.
On Nov. 8, 2023, students gathered in the Student Union to have their questions about housing, faith, parking, and more answered by President Norman Hall. There were also plenty of cookies with accompanying drinks from the Bean Scene to enjoy.
The Student Union was enveloped in the aroma of coffee. Students engaged in animated conversations as Hall and others settled onto couches positioned on the stage. I was curious to know why students were there. Three said they wanted to socialize. Six had been enticed by the cookies. Hall may be the president, but he’s married to the baker, Alison Hall.
As the night commenced, students took their seats. Hall shared updates on sports. He expressed optimism about the teams' future endeavors. Exciting changes at Simpson were also unveiled, including potential additions like women’s flag football, an aviation major, and a new engineering building.
“Engineering went from 2 or 3 majors to 22 majors. We've raised 6 million dollars, committed 3 million in the bank for our business engineering building,” Hall said, as he circulated plans for the building around the room.
The floor then opened to questions. A student brought attention to concerns with spiritual matters.
“So, you spoke a lot about the cool athletic and academic improvements we’re making on campus, I’m just curious to know if there’s anything new we’re looking at for improving the spiritual nature on campus?”
Dr. Hall nodded in thought, acknowledging the importance of the question.
“The strategic plan calls for a definite increase in mission and outreach…our goal has been that every team on campus go on a mission trip every other year. That’s a massive change agent for a small Christian college,” Hall said.
Sitting next to Hall was the Dean of Students, Mark Endraske, who also had things to say.
“I have been really happy with the spiritual formation office this year, especially in the space of chapel and worship,” Endraske said.
Then a request for more water fountains on campus came forward, with Hall concurring that they were a priority, but also outlining some caveats.
“Those were far more expensive than I anticipated because there wasn’t water fountains there already, so now you’re talking about bringing a pipe through the wall…They’re looking at now these things that you plug into the water in the kitchens, and it can give you filtered water, or filtered hot water,” Hall said.
Another student mentioned issues about Simpson’s housing policies.
“I’ve been a student here for 4 years…I have a concern that Simpson is not upholding its commitment to being Christ-centered. In the case of housing, contracts with Bethel and Cal Fire, I feel like Simpson is placing a higher importance on making money before housing and provisions for its own students, Simpson students…Because of Simpson’s recent choices, I feel like I am not a part of the Christian community here. When I voiced this concern to a member of the Res Life faculty, I was cut off and [they] said, ‘Don’t give me that. You know we are a business.’”
Hall listened attentively and addressed the statement.
“Housing for a private Christian liberal arts institution is unquestionably about philosophy and finance…research shows very clearly that students who live in housing are more satisfied, succeed academically, persist longer, and graduate at a higher level when they live on campus in the community. So, we want students to live on campus…I haven't known until now of any concern about Cal fire people misbehaving,” Hall said.
Hall also expressed concern that the student did not feel valued as a person and apologized for that. He asked the student how his response was, and she replied that it was a good start, but she wanted a follow-up.
Student President Brandon Hall, nephew of President Hall, was called upon to address parking. He explained the issue and the complaints while acknowledging that they are not unique—many college campuses have parking that could be better.
Dr. Hall also added his own observations of the situation.
“You have to be careful what you want to legislate, because if this goes much further it becomes assigned parking, then the people that don’t go into their assigned parking, they get fines, and then all of a sudden we become this police state on parking. So, I would urge you guys to study this as a student group, student leadership, and come back and tell me if there is a problem,” Hall said.
Many other topics were discussed, including healthcare, trainers on campus, reusable boxes in the cafeteria, and issues with the weight room.
The night concluded with an announcement about the Student Satisfaction Inventory survey, offering students a platform to voice their opinions until December. The Fireside Chat not only addressed pressing issues but also nurtured a sense of community, transcending the confines of the Student Union.