Senators Reflect on Campaign Strategies

As Democrats across the country continued gearing up their 2020 presidential campaigns this past week, the ballots were just coming in for Oberlin’s own Student Senate.

Student Senate elections happen every semester, but the way candidates choose to campaign can vary each time. This semester, 16 students competed for nine spots, using a variety of methods to communicate their platforms to fellow students. Many used Facebook events and other social media platforms to communicate to voters, while others spoke at co-ops or relied on word-of-mouth.

Some incoming senators ran their campaigns on very specific issues, while others took a broader approach. Newly-elected senator and College sophomore Bridget Smith tied her name to Winter Term improvements.

“Really my platform for Student Senate was making Winter Term more accessible for students,” Smith said. “When it came down to the two colleges that I was applying to, Oberlin having Winter Term was a huge reason why I ended up choosing Oberlin. So coming to the school and finding Winter Term in a state of disrepair, where it was really kind of confusing for a first-time student to go about the process, and it did mean a lot of out-of-pocket costs for something that’s required by the university — it didn’t make a lot of sense.”

Smith cited a need for more individual project funding, as well as more on-campus projects beyond just language programs or research opportunities for students in STEM fields.

“I work in the Office of Study Away and Winter Term,” Smith said. “It is a fantastic place to work, but one thing that I saw throughout working there was how many improvements could be made to Winter Term.”

For Smith, tying her name to the issue of Winter Term goes beyond just strategy.

“If I had been elected but was not allowed to pursue anything related to Winter Term, I wouldn’t have even been interested in running,” Smith said. “I’m here to do Winter Term stuff.”

Other candidates found their vision while already in the process of campaigning. Emma Edney, a College sophomore and new senator, ultimately built a platform around peer support and mental health resources.

“I originally came up with the idea for my platform after deciding to run, but it was something that I had always been really interested in,” Edney said. “[My platform was] specifically targeted at the way that Oberlin students use and don’t use resources and that it can be easy to acknowledge that you need a resource and really hard to actually seek that resource. So the campaign itself was about being really open about mental health and also just needing resources in any capacity, and then changing the way that we go about encouraging people to utilize resources.”

During Winter Term, Edney took the on-campus Intro to Peer Helping Skills class. This training is part of what inspired her campaign.

“I think I’m the only person who’s really coming at it from that perspective of wanting to utilize the Peer Support Center and [Yeworkwha Belachew] Center for Dialogue,” Edney said. “That kind of training that I have — and am in the progress of getting more of — makes me unique in my approach.”

Others ran on more general campaigns, pitching themselves as individuals more than the issues they were concerned about. College first-year Raavi Asdar won a spot on Senate by doing just that.

“I think the biggest thing I was kind of campaigning on is I want to be accessible and approachable to students,” Asdar said. “How I see Senate is as a conduit for student voice almost. For that conduit to work, a senator has to be approachable.”

Beyond that, Asdar pointed out that many of the candidates who ran on specific issues had been at the College for more than a year.

“I’m not going to personally experience all the problems people experience on this campus,” Asdar said. “I guess my persuasion for not going for something very micro-specific was also kind of twofold. One, I didn’t feel like I had been here long enough to have a very strong issue that I was personally affected by. And secondly, I think one learns and develops what Senate’s position is most powerful in doing while they’re on it. So to campaign on a certain issue and then find out this perhaps isn’t the best space to be doing that didn’t feel the most true to myself.”

Long-time senators have seen campaign strategies evolve over their tenure.

“The social media aspect is getting bigger and bigger, I think,” said College senior and Student Senator Kirsten Mojziszek. “One year someone made really cool posters, and I think that helped a lot. I’ve seen it go through like a lot of different phases, and it is always interesting to see what people do and how much people are really going for it. And now we have Meet The Candidates Night, which I really like.”

Mojziszek started off in Senate the first semester of her first year, with only a vague sense of what she wanted to achieve.

“The first time that I ran, honestly I was nominated as a joke by my friends, and at the time I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever, I’ll run,’” Mojziszek said. “I don’t entirely remember my candidate statement, but it was very vague, I’m sure. And I really didn’t have that many skills to bring to the table, if I’m being quite honest. I had some leadership positions in high school, so I was like, you know, I’m generally organized. I would love to help. … I already like it here, and I’m ready to hit the ground running. I’ll just help with whatever projects that I can.”

After four years Mojziszek has attached herself mostly to issues with the Sexual Information Center and Title IX policies at the college — including the Oberlin Bystanders Initiative.

“By second semester I sort of had tied myself to these issues of assault prevention on campus and talking more largely about community support and how peers can help peers in that way and how we can sort of create more community accountability so that everyone can feel safe in the spaces that we share, like the ’Sco or the Cat and the Cream and so on and so forth,” Mojziszek said. “From that point on, I think I just sort of started running on that platform.”

As for the incoming candidates, a good mix of different campaign styles might be important for Senate’s overall function.

“I think it’s really important that we have senators who have specific things they want to achieve and then senators who are really, really qualified and really capable and find their place,” Edney said.

Student Senators are always open to hear suggestions from constituents. Students are encouraged to go to senators’ office hours every Mon-Thu at 9 p.m. in Azariah’s Cafe to discuss any issues they are concerned about or improvements they would like to see. In addition, Senate’s weekly Plenary is open for all students to sit-in on and is every Sunday at 7 p.m. in Wilder 215.