Senate Reflects on Year and Looks Ahead

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.

This year has brought unprecedented changes, triumphs, and challenges that impact all of the Oberlin College community, including Student Senate. It has certainly been an interesting time to be a first-year student and Senator who’s been thrust into an era of both uncertainty and hope. In this column, I asked members of Student Senate to reflect upon the events of the past year and plan for the year ahead.

What Senate-related work from this year are you most proud of? Why?

Brian James, College senior: I’m very proud of my work with the Green Edge Fund this semester. In a community-based social marketing course with [Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies] Cindy Frantz, my research group was able to determine changes to campus that would have a high impact on students’ behavior, particularly around sustainability. Based on this information, I worked to create a Green Edge Fund grant proposal for new recycling and landfill bins. I’m proud of this because I felt like I was able to implement change that I know, first-hand, will improve proper waste and recycling disposal behavior on campus.

Kirsten Mojziszek, College senior: Starting last semester, Caleb [Knapp] and I worked on adding conduct checks for all Senate candidates in an effort to prevent those who have caused harm from being a representative on Senate. Raavi [Asdar] joined me on the Title IX Policy Committee this year and I am entirely confident in leaving the committee with Raavi and Bhairavi as the dedicated, thoughtful, and wonderful student representatives.

Emma Edney, College sophomore: I am most proud of the partnership Oberlin entered with the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit foundation committed to strengthening college campus’ community care protocols, suicide prevention, and substance abuse and mental health resources. I, and several other students and senators, have had the opportunity to join the core review team which will help institute policy changes and programming to Oberlin regarding these issues throughout the multi-year implementation process.

Patrick Powers, College sophomore: During the fall semester, collaborations between Senate, Conservatory Council [of Students], Campus Dining Services, and other bodies got food in the McGregor Skybar, providing a vital resource for [Conservatory] students who need to eat and don’t have time to run to Stevenson Dining Hall. We also helped set up a number of institutional mediums for student feedback in CDS, including the public forums we’ve held, as well as more lasting things like the salaried Student Dining Ambassador program, the physical feedback boards in dining halls, and the texting feedback service.

EmmaLia Mariner, College senior: I am really glad that I had the opportunity to elevate the voices of people who use the Multicultural Resource Center when the MRC was facing a decrease in staff from four to one and the College was searching for a new director. I have benefited greatly from the MRC throughout my career in Oberlin, and I have seen [the] impact that it has on students’ lives, and I am so glad that I could give back in that way.  

What do you think the current state of Senate is? What are you excited to work on next year?

Dunbar: I think the current state of Senate is reflective of the current state of Oberlin. Now is an appropriate time for internal reflection. Many seniors who have been strong participants in student government will be leaving this May, so it’s time for folks to really step into and embrace the leadership roles that are essential to Senate’s stability and success. Student Senate really [works] for those who are able to turn a little into a lot. There’s often little direction for how to do our roles well, whatever they may be. When this is the case, we really have to think creatively about how to own our ideas, our passions, our jobs, and our values in a setting where they will constantly be challenged.

Smith: The current state of Senate is that new, young voices are helping to create change (Serena, Raavi, Renzo!) and we should be excited to see what they accomplish next semester! I am excited to continue to work on making Winter Term more accessible for Oberlin students by creating more on-campus programs.

Mayhall: I think that the current state of Senate is one that I’m really proud of in some ways, but in other ways would like to change. I look forward to being part of that change next year! Next year, I’m excited to work on food insecurity with the information we garner from the survey, as well as finishing and releasing an informational video about how to recycle properly!

Knapp: I don’t think that I’d be the first to say that Student Senate as a body has made some mistakes this semester. No one is perfect, and I think that we’ve been working throughout the semester to try to address and learn from the mistakes that we have made. I personally feel quite optimistic about the future of Student Senate! I am excited to continue my work in the Campus Community Working Group, in trying to understand and address community issues that impact students. Furthermore, I hope to be involved in some capacity with the AAPR implementation process, to make sure that student and community voices are heard throughout.

Cavert: Throughout the spring, I was galvanized and inspired by student pushback and engagement as the campus reacted to the results of the AAPR and tried to envision new ways to think about the future of this institution. Though Senate did not always handle situations in the most appropriate manner, I think the entire student body and the College as a whole benefited from the intensity and scale of the debates that occurred. A history of forceful student leadership and creative student activism means that [the] administration is forced to respond to student demands, even though it does not always do so in an ideal manner. The combined power of student activists and student government advocating for change on campus was again demonstrated this spring. To echo what I wrote in my initial campaign — thank you for the privilege and the responsibility of representing the Oberlin student body and thank you for your continued participation in campus government. As Oberlin faces the prospect of major changes, student engagement, leadership, and creative problem solving will be crucial for the future of how this institution exists in the world.

Serena Zets, College first-year: In my eyes, the future of Student Senate is uncertain. I plan on stepping down from Senate at the end of this semester because it has ended up being a very different space than the one that I ran for a position on. I firmly believe that Senate has the capacity to do good work and has done good work in the past, but I have found that it is not an effective platform for the work that I hope to do during my time at Oberlin. As Communications Director, I found myself constantly apologizing for Senate’s past actions rather than amplifying new voices or sparking constructive dialogue.

Thus, this piece is most likely my last Review column as a senator. I hope that the next generation of senators will bring about a new era of change. I envision the future of Senate being more diverse and reflective of student voices. While I’m sad I won’t be there to see that through, I believe that I begun that work this semester opening channels of dialogue with student activists to explore the possibilities and limits of Senate as a student advocacy platform. I look forward to engaging with Senate from outside of its confines and utilizing my position as a student to push it to do better. As students, it is not only our right, but our duty to imagine a radically just and representative Student Senate. This school is your school, this Senate should be your Senate. I hope it continues to be in the future.