Student Senate Strives to Centralize Activism
This op-ed is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, Student Senators provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community.
Student Senate is an inherently political body. Former Student Senator and College sophomore Kameron Dunbar wrote an op-ed for the Review last December about Senate’s role as a political actor, including its freedom to take preemptive action and stances on contentious issues on and off campus (“Senate Activism Vital to Political Resistance,” Dec. 2, 2016). Now, almost three months later, it has become obvious that Student Senate has embraced that role and will continue moving forward as a political body.
Our capacity to act as a political body is dependent on your involvement. So far this spring, you have been involved. In past elections, we have barely met quorum of 20 percent of the student body and have needed to encourage students to run for Senate. That was far from the case this semester. I thank the 25 candidates who ran for Senate and more than 800 students who voted in our most recent election. You are aiding us in our goal of being a representative and impactful political actor on campus.
Additionally, of the senators who ran, 10 publicly named making Senate a nucleus of student activism as a goal. This means making Senate, and individual senators, a central organizing platform and a place for students to work through in their efforts to make reforms on campus. I personally want to march with you as you protest the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. I want to stand with you as you support organized labor on campus. I want to work with Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, Interim Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Mosely and the rest of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee as we explore capital planning to add more gender-neutral bathrooms in campus buildings.
Every action Senate takes is a political action. Whether it’s demonstrating in the streets for sanctuary campuses, condemning racialized violence or meeting with faculty, staff and administrators to evaluate departments and the role of the liberal arts in educational philosophy, our goal is to improve students’ lives.
Fundamentally, Senate’s role is to advocate for and protect the needs and wants of the student body. Our desire is to do that through building meaningful relationships with our constituents and the adults who have entered the field of higher education with the desire to illuminate future generations. A unique aspect of Student Senate is that there is one Senator for roughly every 200 students. We have the capacity to build meaningful relationships with our constituents so that we can best serve students as we all engage in the College’s and the nation’s political system. Senate is distinctive in its position as both a bureaucratic body and a conduit for activist agencies aspiring for change.
Many of you have taken the first and easiest step toward involvement by voting in our most recent election. Now I ask for something a little harder. I am extending an invitation to every member of the student body to come to Azariah’s Café from 9 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday every week to voice concerns and aid us in our efforts to utilize student power. Oberlin is unique in the ways students have a voice in the room where it happens, to steal a phrase from writer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda. While we lack representatives on the Board of Trustees, much to the chagrin of Student Senate, we can be in many of the rooms where decisions are made on campus.
New sophomore Senators Kai Joy and Cecilia Wallace have taken on the role of committee liaisons and want to put you in those rooms. Joy and Wallace have the privilege of appointing students to the committees that make decisions around Winter Term; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and Dining. Through a short application and interview process, you could be in the room shaping decisions on campus. Let your voice be heard and help us participate in activism and resistance over the next four years. Let this serve as the call to action that inspired you to join the Green EDGE Fund, Student Honor Committee, the Community-Based Learning Committee or the Financial Aid and Admissions Advisory Committee, to name a few opportunities.