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Webster billboard sparks open forum from SGA
Students will get the chance to voice their concerns to the Webster University marketing department in an open forum hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA).
SGA will host a forum on Tuesday, Nov. 19 in Sunnen Lounge with the university’s marketing department in an attempt to help students better understand what the department does. The forum comes in response to student complaints about a university billboard along Interstate 70 in Central Missouri stating, “Our Top Recruits are Chess Players.”
The billboard makes a reference to Webster’s Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (S.P.I.C.E.). The advertisement was supposed to be taken as playful banter between Webster University and the University of Missouri – Columbia while promoting the university, Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said in an Oct. 31 article for The Journal.
SGA President Michael Grosch said the forum will give students the chance to address concerns, questions and comments to the Webster’s marketing department. He said the department will also get the chance to explain to students how and why they make decisions.
Grosch said he’s concerned some students are misdirecting their frustration with the billboard toward the S.P.I.C.E. team.
“The problem isn’t with the chess program, it’s with marketing,” Grosch said. “I would encourage students to not see this as a student versus student issue. It’s a marketing challenge. An issue in marketing we have to face and hopefully get answers to.”
The forum isn’t intended to be a place for students to “whine and complain, but a chance to give constructive criticism and better understand the department,” Grosch said. He said students should ask serious questions and communicate with administrators.
The billboard frustrated former member of the Forensics and Debate team Adam Schneider. He said he thinks the team does not mind being in the background.
“We think, that’s okay. We’re quietly successful. We don’t need a parade or a billboard to commemorate our success,” Schneider said. “All of the challenges we go through; all that seems to be lost because there’s a chess team that’s really good.”
Schneider said athletes and other Webster organizations are often in the shadow of S.P.I.C.E. He said while Webster’s Forensics and Debate team have ranked in the top ten nationally since 2000, yet they have not received the same support as the S.P.I.C.E. team from administration.
The chess team deserves praise, but that praise should also be shared with other successful organizations, Schneider said. He said students who were offended by the billboard have a right to complain.
“All of the people that worked so hard to get here and do what they do in athletics and other organizations, they have a right to say this,” Schneider said. “I think that’s where everyone’s looking and saying well, ‘is this a favoritism thing or what?’ The support would be more than appreciated in the places that have been here a while and shown they’re successful.”
Schneider said administration should make it a priority to praise all of the university’s programs and organizations when they excel.
“I think that if they had equal opportunity that the chess team does; in terms of funding, in terms of publicity, in terms of support from the administration, they could be more successful,” Schneider said.
Grosch said some of his negative feelings toward the billboard are shared throughout the campus. He plans to ask some questions of his own at the forum.
“I see a lot of advertising about our chess program, but what I don’t see is a lot of advertising talking about everything else that Webster’s really, really good at,” Grosch said.
Grosch hopes the forum will start a dialogue between students and administration about the future of Webster’s marketing campaigns. He said he feels like the administrators understand some students want answers.
“I think after talking to a lot of administrators about the issue, they see it as they made a mistake,” Grosch said. “I think it’s a funny idea, but I don’t think it was fully developed before they put it out there.”
Grosch said the university needs to market everything Webster, not just the S.P.I.C.E program.
“There’s so many other things we’re phenomenal at, and I’m not seeing those things being marketed. That’s one of the things I want to question and bring up because, am I just not seeing it? What else are we doing?” Grosch said.
Although, there has been negative feedback on the billboard, some students said the advertisement is a positive move by the university.
Conservatory and Theatre Arts student Caroline Amos said the chess team deserves every honor the school gives it. She said the billboard was a fair way to show the university’s gratitude towards S.P.I.C.E.
“I think it’s great that Webster is honoring the chess team – we have every right to be proud of them. Just because we’re proud of one group of students doesn’t mean the others are valued less. Why not give the underdog the spotlight,” Amos said. “It’s just a billboard. Get over it.”