Focus on Student Empowerment Crucial for Success

This article is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, Student Senators will provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community.

Student empowerment continues as a driving force for Senate this semester. This year, we appointed dozens of students to general faculty committees, such as the influential Educational Policies and Planning Committee. This semester, students gained co-chairmanship of the Student Life Committee. The effect of student appointments to committees is twofold: first, students who demonstrate passion and dedication to an issue can better represent and articulate their interests. Second, fewer senators on committees allows us to hone our focus on more dynamic opportunities, such as working groups and event planning. Most recently, Senate has recommended five students for President Ambar’s Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee.

Appointing devoted students to committees is just one piece of Student Senate’s empowerment strategy. This semester, Senate significantly revamped the vision and efficacy of working groups. Through requiring clearly stated goals, membership, key performance indicators, and policy outcomes, working groups approach a diverse set of campus issues with a trajectory for success. Already off to a strong start, the Career Readiness and Applied Learning for International Students working group will hold its first forum today. Other working groups, like Capital Projects and College Infrastructure, champion student input for community spaces, seeking to maximize benefits for students as the administration restructures student resources on campus.

By incorporating an outward focus, Senate aims to better recognize the work of student organizations. Last month, Senate collaborated with nearly 20 student organizations to plan the first Trustee-Club Expo, which brought together board members and student leaders to discuss the impact of student dollars on campus. Feedback from trustees was incredibly heartening, with some saying the event was their best interaction with students since they began their service on the Board.

At the same time, Senate has begun advocating for an increase to the Student Activity Fund, which would provide greater funding for clubs on campus. For years, the Student Activity Fee, which finances the fund, has not received an increase, despite the steady rise of the Higher Education Price Index and the recent declines in enrollment. A static fee results in clubs slowly losing their purchasing power. Last month, Senate, with input from the Student Finance Committee, submitted a proposal to substantially increase the fund.

If approved, the Student Activity Fund would receive a nearly 30 percent increase. That increase could vastly expand opportunities for the student organizations, from giving clubs the financial backbone to host a conference to funding new computers for leading student publications. Senate plans to continue dialogue with the vice presidents of Finance and Administration and of Admissions and Financial Aid in order to successfully implement the proposed increase by next fall’s board meeting.

As the central advocate for students, Senate has reignited its commitment to expanding opportunities for its constituents. We’ve continued to build bridges with the administration through collaboration and communication. So what characterizes the roadmap now? Ambition and access. Looking to overcome the financial and administrative challenges of the College, Senate has zeroed in on numerous initiatives for next year. Senate hopes to establish transportation to Cleveland, access institutional and financial support for Oberlin Bystander Intervention, and fund a fully functional student legal aid service this coming fall. By creating different avenues of access, students can more easily establish professional lives and foster community. Together, these initiatives pave the way to realizing our ongoing mission of student empowerment. Stay tuned.

Student Senate holds regular office hours in Azariah’s Cafe from 9 to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday. For additional office hours or to contact individual senators and working group chairs, please consult the Senate Directory. Members of the student body are welcome to attend and participate.