Students Request Transparency at Trustee Forum

Rachel Weinstein, Staff Writer

Oberlin students painted Craig Lecture Hall red at the Board of Trustee forum, held on Thursday, Oct. 10. The vast majority of attendees sported red apparel and stood in solidarity to push a list of student demands that have been in progress since last spring. At the forum, which was hosted by the Student Senate, students issued their grievances to the Board.


“The events of March 4 and the occurrences of last semester definitely sparked further discussion,” said Student Senator and College junior Peter Arden. 


This past May, the campus community was forwarded a document of student proposals for institutional change surrounding diversity, inclusion and social justice. 


“A coalition of various groups on campus such as students of color, LGBTQ students and other radical groups on campus formed in response to the events last spring,” explained double degree junior Arianna Gil. According to the proposals, over 300 students in the College and Conservatory communities took part in the initiative. “


“The coalition of students that presented the demands are currently organizing as students, not as representatives of student organizations,” explains College Junior and member of La Alizana Latin@, Ana Robelo. “Though we each bring the perspective of our various communities, we are not speaking for any student group in particular but rather what lines up with our ideals and hopes for this school.”


Although not every student group involved in the larger coalition has submitted specific proposals to the Trustees, nearly a dozen communities on campus have members that support the demands presented at the forum.


“The entirety of the demands expressed by the coalition are supported by many members of Anti-Frack, but the organization as a whole has not officially endorsed them,” said college senior, Alice Beecher, a member of Oberlin’s Anti-Frack organization.


The proposals published last spring urged the employment of working groups — in the Conservatory, departments in the natural sciences and within the athletics community — or promote and embrace inclusion and diversity. This emphasis includes the incorporation of diversity within specific curriculums, the implementation of student representatives for their respective department or domain and the diversification of faculty.


But the list published in May was only the beginning. 


Student organizations like Students for a Free Palestine and The Anti-Frack group have more recently joined the student coalition in listing their expectations to the board. 


“We are looking for greater opportunities to have a dialogue with the Board of Trustees to discuss solutions before the institution carries them out,” College Junior and member of Oberlin’s Anti-Frack Group, Jackson Kusiak, shared.  


Since May, the list of proposals has expanded significantly. Specific student demands at the forum included the transparency of the institution’s financial allocation, divestment from corporations that benefit from Israel’s involvement in Palestine, reform of Oberlin’s policy on undocumented students, the creation of the Asian American Studies Program and the ban on fracking on Oberlin College land.


“The list of student demands that included several issues was only one of many matters included in the forum’s agenda,” explained Student Senator, Ziya Smallens.  “Unfortunately even with the extension of time, we were not able to address every issue written on the agenda.”


Other points students included in the forum’s lengthy agenda were the allocation of funds in the Conservatory, Oberlin’s relationship with its history and n the construction of an athletic facility in the southern region of campus.


 While a staggering number of students stand in strong support of the demands presented at the forum, many do not agree with the response of the Board. Some present at the forum remain baffled by the “hostile” and “indirect” response to student demands.


When asked about the response of the Board, a Trustee wrote, “The board and the administration are deliberating on the recent student requests. [We] would prefer to defer a conversation with the Review about these issues until after our deliberations have advanced further.” 


Many communities on campus are simply striving for more transparency from the Board and its decision-making.  Communities within the coalition wish to see greater student involvement and input in these decisions. 


“Ideally, select students would have the ability to vote on decisions prior to the Board making them,” suggested Gil. 


All involved in the coalition plan to continue to fight for the Board’s willingness to increase transparency and have their demands met.


“The root of many of the concerns and demands is a plea for transparency.  Students and organizations need more dialogue with those who make the big decisions,” says Arden. 


“And that is something that I strongly believe can be very easily achieved.”