On March 9, 2021, my entire freshman year was drastically altered.
While walking on the sidewalk back to South Housing from my on-campus job at the PAC, I was struck by a car in a hit and run. Within seconds, everything changed. Upon arrival and assessment at Greenville Memorial Hospital, I found out that I had a compression fracture in the L1 vertebra of my lumbar spine. I also had a fractured toe and a sprained ankle, along with a good amount of trauma. As the one-year anniversary of my accident recently passed, I have had ample time to reflect on the experience as a whole. Further, I have now recognized shortcomings by Furman administration in addressing and responding to the entire incident.
That day, my phone received hundreds of notifications. Loved ones, acquaintances and other students sent messages wishing me well and asking how they could help. Among all of these messages, there was one that I missed. There was one note that I assumed would arrive in my inbox but was never delivered. Throughout my entire recovery, I never heard anything from upper administration at Furman. And in that time, I continually wondered why the leaders tasked with representing our school and governing the student experience did not feel the need to acknowledge the incident or express some level of sympathy and support for me in my recovery.
I’m not typically one to ask for sympathy. However, in this situation, I happen to feel a bit differently. Considering that this accident occurred on Furman's campus, was committed by a Furman student, and could have been fatal, it should be wholly expected that upper administration would have in some way reached out. In my time of crisis, I wanted to feel assured that my school was there for me. Not hearing anything from admin made me believe that they were indifferent to or unaware of my struggle, which discouraged me and further distanced me from Furman when I was absent for a month. I feel that my situation exposed an existing sense of disconnect between students and upper administration and explains why many students might complain that they are unheard and unseen by our campus's most influential leaders.
In her 2019-2020 President's Report, Elizabeth Davis stated that "we seek to enable our faculty and staff to focus on the experience of our students." Through my accident in 2021, this began to feel like an empty promise. If members of upper admin want to claim that they are there for students, they need to show it by making themselves more present around campus and in our lives. At the very least, they must reassure students in a time of crisis that they are fully engaged with their well-being and recovery. Simply being a figurehead is not enough.
This call for engagement is not to say the entire Furman faculty is to blame for those absent during this period of my life. Tracy Carner, the assistant Academic Dean, was incredible in helping me navigate SOAR and working with my professors. The same can be said for Judy Bagley. Jonathan Craig, an officer at Furman University Police Department, was also a tremendous support system for my mom and me throughout the entire ordeal. Lastly, I was greatly assisted by the Athletics staff who helped me acquire a golf cart for the remainder of my Spring semester. These people embodied the kind of active, concerned leadership that I would expect of upper administration if it is to shepherd our school well.
So, how exactly can upper admin become more involved with their students? It takes much more than only reaching out during a time of crisis — which is what I needed at the time. They should become more engaged with students in both the moments they should be celebrated and assisted; check in more with students when it is clear they need it; listen to students' concerns and truly consider how students' input change Furman for the better; and be more transparent. Administration will begin to foster a sense of fellowship between themselves and the student body as soon as they listen and respond to students more attentively. It is only then that the evident disconnect between admin and students will grow smaller. I call on Furman's administration to take these minor but active steps toward creating a stronger and more dependable relationship with their students.