Students Must Vote in Upcoming Senate Elections

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.

 Today’s seniors have lived through wild times at Oberlin College. There were high-profile protests and thinkpieces, President Carmen Twillie Ambar was inaugurated, and the College began teaching spin classes. The College will continue to make serious changes as it grapples with the evolving landscape of higher education through the Academic and Administrative Program Review process.

In that time, Student Senate has transformed itself as well. Over the past couple of years, student government doubled down on its role serving students by strengthening working groups, conducting surveys, communicating proactively with administration, and reforming student activity fund allocation.

Senate has worked to have a bigger impact on institutional decision-making, and voter turnout has reflected this. But last fall, for the first time in five semesters, voter turnout went down. This makes student government less legitimate, representative, and capable at the very time it needs to be most legitimate, representative, and capable.

I’m sympathetic to those who spent last fall’s election week out on Wilder bowl in the final spasms of summer, but it will be cold and sleeting for elections this week, so there is nothing between you and that Google Form ballot.

Skeptical, Google Form-weary students may ask: What can Senate even do? What has it done? Fair questions.

Senate can communicate across the gamut of institutional bodies; senators have regular meetings with Senior Staff are voting members of the General Faculty Council, and present to these groups as well as to the Board of Trustees. Senate can crystalize issues that are important to students and target them through working groups. (These are open to all students. Join one once they’re formed this semester, around February 24!) Senate, collaborating with the Student Finance Committee — the fiscal arm of student government — can shape student life by emboldening the Student Activity Fund that sponsors student-run clubs, events, and services.

And Senate has made use of all these privileges. After surveying almost half of campus in fall 2017, Senate presented the mental health, disability support, housing, and career service concerns it found to groups as wide-ranging as General Faculty, the Board, and the College library staff.

With food access near the Conservatory in crisis after Dascomb closed, Senate’s campus dining working group labored diligently to resolve the issue, resulting in grab-and-go lunch added to the Sky Bar.

Last semester, SFC worked hard along with the Solarity team to bring Lizzo to campus, for the first time soliciting student input to choose the artist and ensuring it would be free for all. SFC’s innovative reforms for allocating money are making these kinds of events possible, and Senate elections indicate to SFC what students are concerned about.

“Wow, let me vote already,” you may be crying. “When can I vote? How do I vote? Does Senate use the electoral college?”

This semester’s ballot will open Monday, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. and will close Saturday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. The ballot will be emailed out as a Google Form where you can read candidate statements and rank your top picks.

The rank matters! Senate uses the Single Transferable Vote system, most familiar to computer science majors and the Scottish. Your vote will count toward your first rank candidate unless they are, by a plodding algorithm of elimination, ejected from the pool. At that point, your ballot will be reevaluated and counted toward the next candidate you ranked. (So, don’t vote for the same person six times — it will not help them. And don’t vote in alphabetical order, unless your priority is electing more A-names to office.)

By voting for Student Senate next week, you will help your student government be more legitimate, representative, and capable. Senate will be better able to advocate for students at a crucial time in Oberlin’s history.

And you don’t have to stop at voting. Ask candidates questions on campus or online. Ask senators questions, too, once they’re elected. Tell them your thoughts, the good and the bad. Follow Senate’s Facebook page @Oberlin College Student Senate and Instagram account @oberlinsenate.

No one knows what awaits Oberlin, but one way to help it all turn out OK is to fill out the Senate ballot before Saturday at 5 p.m.