Oberlin has long boasted about its Winter Term program and the opportunity it provides students to travel or explore new projects that they otherwise wouldn’t have time for. However, students have often criticized the program for its lack of structure and meaningful options available to make it worth their while.
It is, therefore, heartening to see that the Winter Term program is finally going through significant reforms that will allow students to use their time purposefully, rather than merely ticking off a graduation requirement. The changes are detailed in last week’s issue of the Review (“College Adds On-Campus Winter Term Projects” Nov. 1, 2019). Winter Term reforms propose to improve financial accessibility for existing projects, increase the number of structured on-campus projects offered by faculty and staff, and revitalize campus life over the month of January. These changes are a significant improvement from previous years and are some of the first instances of One Oberlin implementation that are visible to students.
Larger-scale shifts like the ones being instituted to Winter Term are easy to fumble, but they appear to have been handled with grace. The fact that Winter Term reform has been met with a positive response from the College community at large — especially the faculty — shows that they have been carefully implemented. A high level of faculty engagement has proven critical to these efforts and must be sustained into the future so that Winter Term and One Oberlin can prove successful.
The move to make Winter Term more financially accessible is a long-overdue change that AAPR has brought to the limelight. The Office of Winter Term has shifted away from offering merit-based aid for student projects, which it previously considered alongside need-based aid. This switch improves equitable access to valuable opportunities. Still, students are expected to complete three winter term projects, none of which can be paid opportunities. Coupled with the office’s past merit-based practices, these factors have previously created a burden for low-income students. The changes that have been made this year are a step in the right direction, and we hope to see more work to improve financial accessibility in the future.
A major factor that has kept students from staying on campus is the lack of community. If Oberlin meets its enrollment goals for on-campus project participation, then simply having more people on campus will alleviate some of the sense of isolation. New programming for students, including bus trips to Cleveland, is an exciting development with the potential to significantly improve the student experience. While the College is working hard to try and improve campus life, students are an integral part of the process of improving the on-campus Winter Term experience. Community building is a two-way street, and we as students are also responsible for fostering a positive campus environment.
Forty-four on-campus Winter Term projects are being offered this year, an impressive increase from last year’s catalog. Many of these projects offer curricular experiences that aren’t available to students during the regular school year, including education on 3D printing, podcast production, and flute maintenance and repair, among many others. Faculty and staff have imagined many new opportunities for the upcoming Winter Term program. In the past, Winter Term hasn’t been fully utilized. Faculty have offered few projects, and the topics haven’t covered the depth and breadth found in this year’s catalog. The kind of engagement that has been fostered this year directly contributes to the value that this College has to offer its students.
The One Oberlin implementation committees and the faculty and staff members who will be enacting these changes need our engagement to sustain their momentum moving forward. While Winter Term may prove to be one of the smoother areas of implementation, it has set a positive example for the energy that the College will need to implement more difficult changes moving forward.