Student Senate Holds First Annual Constituents’ Week


Photo by Bryan Rubin, Photo Editor

College senior Paddy McCabe discusses a survey he took on his desired campus improvements with Student Senate Vice Chair Kameron Dunbar and President Carmen Ambar. Students who participated received a free Krispy Kreme donut.

Members of Student Senate spent every night in Mudd library this week — known as Constituents’ Week — handing out Feve tots and Krispy Kreme donuts to every student who filled out a short questionnaire.

The surveys, which were anonymous, asked students to provide feedback about academic programs, mental health and disability resources, athletics, and housing — ultimately geared toward retention, which decreased in the 2017–18 academic year and has contributed to the $5-million deficit the College is facing. Senate Communications Director and College junior Hanne Williams-Baron said she hopes to gain insight into student opinions so Senate can better represent the student body as a whole.

“We felt that a survey was necessary in order to get a broad scope of what’s working for students here and what’s not working,” Williams-Baron said. “I speak for all of Senate when I say we are really invested in our fellow students’ ability to thrive here, and we know it’s difficult to finish school here in four years.”

Although administration sends out numerous surveys to students throughout the academic year, that data isn’t always shared with Senate, according to Vice Chair and College junior Kameron Dunbar.

“We take this stuff very seriously,” he said. “This will help us see what areas we need to work on to make the student experience better. Senate needs new information to work with. At the end of the day, we’re here to represent the whole student body.”

Williams-Baron said she hopes that the information Senate receives through the surveys will help them better communicate the wants and needs of students to the senior administration and the Board of Trustees.

“When the Board of Trustees asks us why Oberlin doesn’t retain students well, we want to be able to give them an answer backed with as much data as possible,” Williams-Baron said.

Because Senate has spent so much time trying to get a student representative on the Board of Trustees, Dunbar admits they haven’t been able to focus on other things as much as he’d like to.

“Senate needs a little more direction,” Dunbar said. “What better way to do that than by asking students directly what they want? President Ambar likes to see data and statistics. We hope to get back legitimate data that will substantiate things Senate has said in the past and help Senate develop new areas.”

One specific project Senate is looking at involves Disability Resources. One question asked students whether they feel like Disability Resources should continue to be housed with the Center for Student Success, or if it should be moved to its own distinct location.

“There’s definitely some important dialogue happening right now around that kind of question, and we want to know how students honestly feel,” Williams-Baron said. “If the feedback, say, were 90 percent that Oberlin feels Disability Resources needs its own location, we would design a task force that would tackle advocating for that next semester. We want to be making informed decisions about how we allocate our energy and labor.”

The questionnaire’s results will be communicated to students once Senate has the chance to organize and make sense of the data. Dunbar said he is considering giving a presentation and holding a forum with the student body, senior administration, and eventually the Board of Trustees.

Students have expressed interest in seeing what their classmates’ opinions are.

“Hopefully the surveys will help in the long run. It would be nice to see the results. A lot of people seemed to be participating,” College senior Paddy McCabe said.

Dunbar and Williams-Baron said that Senate is committed to representing their classmates and want to do a better job in the future of communicating everything they’re doing with the student body.

“Meg [Parker] and I have done a lot of work this semester to engage more with our constituents,” Williams-Baron said. “We spend a lot of time writing weekly emails that we hope can foster more care and community. We held our first town hall. We’ve been tabling in Mudd [and] increased our social media presence. This survey is just another avenue towards increasing student engagement, honesty, and trust. We want people to know that we’re fighting for them in as educated a way as possible.