Three Ways Every Student Can Contribute to the AAPR Process

 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. 

The ongoing Academic and Administrative Review process asks a great deal of Oberlin’s students. For a student body famous for its skepticism toward authority, President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s call to think institutionally is understandably difficult. We have to strike a balance between our sometimes-idealistic values and the always-brutal financial realities in which we find ourselves. As we search for this balance, anxiety abounds. 

The student body has a wealth of opportunities to contribute to this process, but I am concerned that the way we are currently approaching these opportunities is failing us. We are concerned for OSCA, and for the potential loss of union jobs. We see the areas proposed for reduction, and we perceive a betrayal of Oberlin’s values. I believe that these values are important, and that they’re worth fighting for. However, in informal conversations as well as in structured forums, conversations between students, faculty, and AAPR committee members have become worryingly circular. The steering committee and administration have asked us to engage with established governance bodies, to think institutionally, and to offer our feedback after informing ourselves as best we can. I believe that we can do a better job at all of these things. If we don’t, we run the risk of undermining the legitimacy of student feedback in the eyes of the steering committee and administration. I worry that this could reduce the impact of student voices in the future, including the actual implementation processes that will come after the recommendations. 

For student input to be effective in the AAPR process, we have to shift tactics and engage more effectively, and I think there are three distinct ways to achieve that.

First: Come to office hours. All student senators have office hours every week, usually in Azariah’s; I hold mine in the Conservatory Lounge. The expressed purpose of these office hours is to have casual conversations with students, and these are the perfect opportunity to make your voice heard. In Senate’s consultations with AAPR, steering committee members invariably ask us to shed light on students’ points of concern and on the general campus climate. While we can comment on these issues by virtue of being students and paying attention to what’s happening around us, none of us are perfectly intersectional, and there are identities, interests, and student groups with whom we are less familiar than others.

This makes student engagement even more vital. Come with a group of friends or colleagues and speak to the concerns and ideas your group has, or come alone and have a one-on-one conversation. Even if the senator in question can’t solve your problem directly, I feel confident that both you and your senator will benefit from your visit to office hours. What’s more, the in-person conversations we have in office hours stick with us, and they really influence our thoughts as we move forward.

Second: Propose solutions. This is one is difficult, but it is essential. We all understand that there are components of AAPR that, frankly, suck. There are cuts and trade-offs, and every time we prioritize one thing, we have to emphasize something else less. While feelings of anger around recommendations are valid, we have to stand for more than just opposition. If we want to have a strong student voice in addressing the problems identified by AAPR, we have to envision viable solutions.

I don’t think students should be deterred by the feeling that they have less information or time than the steering committee did. While this may be true, they are asking for our input now, and are serious when they say they want our ideas. Even if a student’s proposed solution ends up not being feasible for one reason or another, the fact that they thought beyond a grievance and kept solutions in mind will garner a lot of respect from the steering committee and the administration as a whole. Holding ourselves accountable for solution-oriented feedback is also a valuable reality check. As a private institution in the capitalist world, Oberlin must make painful and morally challenging choices to survive in perpetuity. We must do more than just point out flaws. We must also begin to articulate realistic visions for the future. 

Third: Don’t miss the low-hanging fruit — read your emails. This is easy. This is important. Between Senate’s weekly emails, emails from the steering committee with links to the various documents they’ve tirelessly compiled, and other communications from administrators and Senate alike, a lot of crucial information is delivered straight to your inbox. Taking advantage of the information already available to you is the most immediate and tangible way you can engage. By keeping up to date on emails and documents released publicly by AAPR, you will find it much easier to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. Even if you haven’t been involved with student government or with the AAPR process yet, don’t worry. Just read your emails. You’ll be more informed and prepared to make an impact. 

I remain optimistic about Oberlin. I believe deeply in this student body’s ability to contribute to institutional change, and I believe equally deeply in this institution’s ability to thrive for decades to come. In order for us to realize this potential, we must work together. We must engage with our leadership structures effectively, we must work with solutions in mind, and we must take it upon ourselves to stay informed. Just as the AAPR process is a decisive time for the institution, it is a decisive time for our voices as students. By holding ourselves to a high standard of input and advocacy, we have the opportunity to ensure that student voices remain respected and impactful at Oberlin for years to come.