Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., above, met for dinner with undergraduate college fellows at West Side Dining on Monday, Feb. 12. CHRISTOPHER CAMERON/STATESMAN FILE

On Monday, Feb. 12, I had the exclusive opportunity to have a real dinner with President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and other university executives. As an undergraduate college fellow, I was invited along with other fellows from Kelly and Roosevelt Quads. Stanley and his team wanted to meet us and to get to know us better because of our leadership role on campus. Some may have seen this as an opportunity for networking or to just meet the most powerful person at Stony Brook. I, however, wanted to make my ideas heard and demand change.

Even though we were served catered food — as in no undercooked chicken from the dining hall — we still had this delightful meal in West Side Dining. Walking into West and giving my name instead of my ID card to swipe made me feel pretty important. We even had a closed off section, contributing to the professional atmosphere. The dinner was organized well.

Once I walked in, I grabbed my name tag and clacked my heels to my assigned table. Each table had a blend of fellows from the two quads. There was a cluster of tables bordered with a buffet of fancy food. Walking in to this setting, I was impressed but also apprehensive. I had so many questions running through my mind. Would President Stanley treat me with the same respect I was expected to give him? Would I be able to express my concerns and ideas to him
without controversy?

The fellows remained at their tables throughout the night, and the officials rotated so they could get to talk to every table. Before talking to President Stanley, I had a full meal, talked to four other officials and complained about housing and dining four times. I was tired of saying the same issues over and over again, but now it would truly count. At first I thought President Stanley would talk the whole time. However, he was more than eager to listen to our concerns. This surprised me, because I didn’t expect him to be such a good listener.

President Stanley broke the ice with us in a fun but slightly serious way. He asked us, “If you could be the president of Stony Brook for a day, what would you change and why?” It was amazing to hear five different answers about five separate issues. I was first to answer, expressing my concerns for the housing process and diversity of food in the dining hall. As soon as I was done speaking, Stanley told me that he understood where I was coming from, and expressed how he was trying to tackle the issue. I have a good ear for dishonesty, and Stanley was not talking it.

I fully respected how he listened to all five of us and our concerns. If he didn’t have a game plan to tackle the problem, he wanted to start one. He also talked to us maturely, as if he was talking to another executive.

Do I believe the changes President Stanley expressed will happen rapidly? No. However, I do believe he actually somewhat cares. Think about it. He wouldn’t have asked us that ice breaker if he didn’t mean something behind it. Additionally, the other officials at the dinner also asked us what changes we wanted to happen. I had thought that since these officials were high up, they wouldn’t even care what we think, and would only rely on what they heard from other colleagues, but this whole dinner took time and effort to plan.

I’m not expecting all the changes he spoke about to happen before I graduate. We never know what other larger issues might take precedence. I appreciate the concern for my opinions and problems. I appreciate knowing that something is being done to fix them. I’m apprehensive about what I heard, but respect their acknowledgement of my opinions. President Stanley may be hidden in the dark because of his busy schedule, but he does seem to care about executing change to make our experiences better.