In one of the most competitive races for Student Senate in recent history, a group called Students Building Community Power emerged through individuals running on a collective activist platform this spring. Of the SBCP candidates, College sophomores Kai Joy and Dani Pacheco won two of eight available seats, joining an increasingly influential Student Senate. Concurrent with Joy and Pacheco’s campaigns, SBCP released a list of demands, including calls for six student representatives to the Board of Trustees, student liaisons to administrators, the creation of a student council to meet weekly with the College president and for Senate to act as a centralizing platform for student activism. Since elections, Senate has seemingly absorbed these demands as their own and embraced the group as an extension of its own body.
This very well might not be the case — which is exactly the issue. The relationship and intersections between the two groups is muddy as stands. Unlike Student Senate, there is no directory of SBCP members, and it remains unclear which organization individuals participating both in Senate and SBCP are representing at any given time. The overlaps are confusing for those seeking a distinction between the two groups in spaces like this week’s protests in the Science Center. When Joy and Pacheco entered Senate’s retreat with the board, were they representing SBCP’s interests or Senate’s agenda? Ultimately, these blurred lines might diminish Student Senate’s capacity for negotiations with the board since it is easy to conflate the groups from the outside, and the trustees’ perception of SBCP is unclear — though we speculate that trustees might find it easier to dismiss sporadic protests rather than address a clearly articulated proposal.
Senate has been building its reputation on campus over the past few years and has recently risen to a prominence not seen in our time at Oberlin. This status comes from dedicated membership, lengthy weekly meetings, high levels of engagement with the student body, and profound assessments of how the institution functions both in the long run and in the day-to-day. Student senators’ proposal to the Board of Trustees, delivered to trustees Wednesday night and circulated more widely Thursday, reflects a deep understanding of how Oberlin functions and how to encourage trustees to take student concerns seriously.
SBCP’s principles are admirable in their endeavor to “bring power to the students.” The group has managed to mobilize a large section of the student body around an issue that we believe is of the utmost importance: adding student representatives to the board. The fact that student activists and Student Senate are both pushing in the same direction has been encouraging. Protests are a vital tool for showing trustees that students care about student representation. If the board decides to add student representatives, both cool-headed dialogue and passionate protest will have played a critical role.
However, SBCP is a newly formed organization. The group has no outwardly clear leadership or membership and is barely a month old. Only time will tell what SBCP’s future holds — and it might be one full of success and hard-fought victories with the board — but Senate risks its newfound legitimacy by so closely associating with a group that might soon fold if it cannot establish the infrastructure that is necessary to create long-lasting organizations. Groups that have preceded SBCP, like 2014’s prominent campus body Defending Oberlin Financial Accessibility, have failed for this very reason in the past. As students graduate and the original mission of an organization fades, groups inevitably dissipate into the void. Part of Senate’s invaluability is inherently derived from its status as a permanent campus fixture, something that SBCP cannot claim for itself yet.
Student Senate endorsing SBCP is a completely valid course of action. However, if Student Senate has adopted many of SBCP’s principles, we find it necessary that the group clarify where it stands on all of the demands.