Senate and Conservatory Student Elections Show Desire For Change

Since its founding, Oberlin has been known for its forward-thinking and socially progressive activism. This fall, I’ve been particularly amazed by the trends in student leadership and on-campus elections. Based on the Student Senate and the Conservatory Council of Students elections, students seem to care about equality and representation. 

The incumbency effect had minimal influence on these two elections; instead, new groups and communities were elected. In the Senate race, students of underrepresented communities — particularly Black, Indigenous, and students of color — were the overwhelming winners. For the Conservatory Council, Obies elected several non-classical performance majors. 

In some ways, this contrasts with our national climate. Over the last four years, our country has been stagnant, if not regressing, in all forms of social progress. Oberlin students have always been at the forefront of social change and equality — we made that clear once again with our student elections, which demonstrate frustration and desire for new faces, more equal and diverse representation, and a restructuring of powerful positions.

In the elections for Student Senate, an unprecedented 31 candidates ran, including 10 from the #BlackoutSenate campaign. In recent semesters, Senate has had to extend their voting deadline due to low turnout. This fall, though, Senate reached its required minimum of 20 percent student participation within 24 hours of polls opening, with more than 800 students voting by the time polls closed. 

The results were a reflection of institutional change and desire diversity. The elected Senators are 80 percent BIPOC and 60 percent female. They range from first- through fifth-years, with majors from Creative Writing in the College to Piano Performance in the Conservatory. Only one senator is returning to their role as senator from last semester — Emarie De La Nuez, who ran on the #BlackoutSenate platform. 

The Conservatory Council of Students serves a similar function to Student Senate, though CCS specifically represents Conservatory students. Eleven candidates ran, up from the usual range of six to eight, and the four elected members are all historic in their own right. The Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild — which contributed significantly to the Presidential Initiative and the Conservatory faculty statement on race, equity, and diversity over the summer — played a large role in the election. Two of their officers ran and won: Katelyn Poetker, the first Winds major and Black woman on CCS, and Christopher McDole, the first Jazz Studies major on CCS. Oberlin Students for Gender Inclusivity in Music, which promotes female, nonbinary, and LGBTQ+ musicians, sponsored several candidates, two of whom were elected into the president and vice president positions; Melinda Wisdom and Olivia Fink respectively.

These results are a statement, from our generation to our elders, from our inclusive community to those who discriminate against non-white, non-male individuals. The past four years have been painful and frustrating to witness, not to mention the decades and centuries of inequality suffered by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and female members of this country. Our youthful frustration with our aging leadership, however, is matched by youthful optimism. We have a profound desire for equality and compassion to be achieved on institutional levels. My greatest hope is that our energy in the on-campus elections is matched on a wider scale a month from now.