Editorial: Taking the “No” out of Northeastern

It is never encouraging to be told “No.” Getting rejected for a date is one thing, but as a student, getting denied by your university is especially insulting. Student groups have heard “No, we can’t fund your program.” Maybe you have heard, “No, you can’t study abroad,” or “No, you can’t take that class.” In the recent economy, more and more students are hearing “No, we don’t have a co-op job for you.” These are the kind of rejections that can change a student’s entire path through college.

Without a doubt, Northeastern students are able to do some amazing things. Few other universities can boast having students learning on every continent. Many undergraduates working in world-class laboratories and institutions around the globe. However, much of what students do is a result of their own determination, dedication and perseverance. Northeastern may have had a marginal role in their success, but, in some cases, it has made things more difficult for them. While some students are able to accomplish their academic and personal goals within the structure of the university, Northeastern really needs to find what it’s missing out on – a lot of good ideas that never get a second glance.

The problem is not a particular instance of any one office always vetoing ideas or any group of people chronically getting denied. It’s about preventing the negative culture of “no” that can sometimes pervade and depress the spirit of any institution. It’s important for Northeastern, as it rises through the college rankings, to not neglect to promote and support its students’ big dreams and help to make them a reality.

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), famous for its quirky and high-profile pranks, students have built roller coasters on campus. A residence hall allowed students to rappel down the side of the building to encourage them to choose to live there. Although they are not always officially sanctioned by their university, unique ideas like these would never pass the initial scrutiny, let alone be approved, by Northeastern’s housing, student life or risk management departments.

A big part of the responsibility to enable students’ ideas falls on the Student Government Association (SGA), which distributes the Student Activities Fee, allocating more than $1 million worth of funds to student groups for programming on campus every year. Its rules and the official Northeastern guidelines for programming and financing form a complicated amalgam that inflexibly caters to a certain style of student programming. They make few allowances for out-of-the-box ideas, making the process and requirements for programs, especially in the areas of community service and fund raising, needlessly cumbersome and costly.

Finance Board members are more likely to approve ideas that have been done successfully in the past, a policy that ensures viability of the program, but may alienate newer or less powerful groups. The deadline for funding programs through October has already passed. SGA only reports on programs that have been funded, not the ones that have been denied or never submitted for a variety of reasons. This financial power is also in the hands of a small number of students who may not always be representative of the student body.

Not saying “yes” to students is sometimes the same as saying “no.” Letting good ideas die, not following through on plans or otherwise letting good opportunities pass by can be just as detrimental to a student or group as being denied outright. The daunting red tape of the NU Shuffle keeps shy or less-involved students from having their voices heard. Telling students they can’t do something discourages and isolates them. After a while, they just give up and fall in line with the status quo. That’s not something that should be happening at Northeastern.

Administrators and staff members must be enablers of student creativity and enthusiasm. If students approach you with an idea, follow through with them. Even if it seems unrealistic or hasn’t been done before, affirm the idea and work with the student to either shape their goals or to forge a new path. Keep a log of ideas and requests to bring up at meetings or with supervisors. Monitor trends that will help to better adjust the university to the future goals and directions set by the students. Don’t resist new challenges or blame policies for saying no. Make exceptions. Let them do what they want to do with their time here. Tell students “yes,” and help them figure out how to make it work.

Students, how can you immunize yourself from being told no at Northeastern? First – don’t ask, tell. The best way to do this is to ask open ended questions. Instead of saying “Can I…?” try instead to figure out exactly what it is you want, then ask, “How can I…?” This way, it’s harder to say no, and you’ll get more constructive answers. Just like at a job interview, before leaving a meeting or discussion with an advisor, professor or administrator, make sure to confirm what your next steps are, who to contact if you have questions, and if necessary, make a back up plan to fall back on if something falls through. Ultimately, you are the one responsible for seeing your ideas to fruition.

If you’re really having trouble or hitting roadblocks, look for ways around them. If people aren’t helping you, try contacting their boss or colleague. Be polite, succinct and don’t make accusations. Just stay focused on getting your “yes.” Mountains can be moved by networking with like-minded people who want to see you succeed. As Northeastern has grown, there will always be cracks to fall into, but there’s always help if you know where to look and who to ask.

Jim Carrey’s character found success, happiness, a promotion and won the heart of Zooey Deschanel by saying “yes” to every opportunity that came his way in the 2008 movie “Yes Man.” Northeastern should try to adopt the same policy of always saying yes to it’s students and see what happens. After all, the customer is always right.

In a few weeks a new freshman class will be moving to Northeastern. As the rest of the university community reads the last issue of The Huntington News for the summer semester and prepares for another academic year in Boston, take part in encouraging a culture of positivity and support for students’ creative ideas. The students are the ones who will continue to push Northeastern forward and upward. You just have to tell them “Yes.”

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