Website brings democracy to students’ complaints

Students can voice concerns — and vote for the most important ones — on Echo Spot.
By
  • Mariana Pelaez
April 08, 2014

University of Minnesota students now have a new place to vent and exchange ideas.

The Echo Spot launched last week, and the website is aiming to be the students’ main platform to help solve campus issues. The page’s leaders plan to present common problems to University administrators and departments.

The site has attracted more than 18,000 page views since it launched and 118 people have signed up for an account, according to Echo Spot President Nadya Nguyen.

The inspiration for Echo Spot came from students who felt like they weren’t being heard, said Nguyen, a finance and management information systems senior.

Students can anonymously post their ideas or concerns about the University or campus life on the website. Those with an account may then vote the posts up or down.

If a post receives 30 or more upvotes, Echo Spot’s team of students and recent graduates will identify which administrator or department can address the concerns or ideas in the post. Next, they’ll draft a report based on the post and present it to the relevant people or office.

“There’s really that gap between students trying to drive change and also administration on campus trying to see what students are thinking,” Nguyen said.

The reports could be beneficial to address student concerns, said Amelious Whyte, assistant dean of students and chief of staff of the Office for Student Affairs.

“I think anyone who runs a department or organization knows more information is always good and welcome because it gives you a perspective you don’t have,” he said.

The Echo Spot already has support from the Office for Student Affairs, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, Nguyen said, among other groups and offices.

Whyte helped guide Echo Spot’s creators as they developed the website. Whyte pointed the group to administrators and student boards to consult, and he was an early beta-tester for the site.

“The campus is so big, students are so spread out, this creates another place for students to connect in a setting that usually doesn’t happen,” Whyte said.

The Echo Spot team wants students to use the site to get other students’ perspectives and solve campus problems.

The Minnesota Student Association’s “What to Fix UMN” initiative works in a similar way, but Nguyen said her website aims to tackle a different set of issues.

While MSA often takes on legislative and campus policy issues, she said there are other, more specific concerns or ideas that should be addressed by a single college or department. Echo Spot is aimed at those issues, Nguyen said, and its leaders have already made contact with leaders of individual colleges at the University.

Jon Melgaard, co-founder of entrepreneurial student group Co-Lab, also tested the website in beta and said Echo Spot’s posts discuss topics that often fly under the radar.

“The content is so diverse but so relevant to the U,” he said.

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