Well, it appears that, although I’m not the most enthusiastic about writing another article about this topic, I have no other choice. In my previous article, titled “Being Black in a World of Darkness,” I wrote about Oberlin’s failure to properly address the student mental health crisis. Oberlin College appeared to care more about patting itself on the back for its small contributions to damage control rather than actually working with students. I felt like most of the work for “getting help” fell on me — sending emails, taking time out of my limited schedule — instead of the College, which should proactively offer resources. I also emphasized how hard it is to be Black during this school year amid a steady slew of events particularly detrimental for Black and Brown people. It should not be lost on readers that although writing pieces such as this is cathartic, it also takes an enormous mental and emotional toll on the soul. My main hope in writing my previous article was to lay my pain out in the open so nobody else had to suffer.
Although my last article outlined the large amount of injustice and trauma occurring within and outside the College, there was a silver lining. I received a tremendous amount of support from many students, especially Black students who understood my plight. It felt nice to know my work touched so many, and at the time, I hoped my article would help alleviate our universal turmoil. Sadly that wasn’t the case, and since nothing fundamental changed or improved, I now need to take time out of my semester off to write another article.
I’ve had various members of the administration reach out to me after my first article was published — and some meant well. However, after I emailed or met with these people, little to no action came about despite my previous article’s traction. One person I met with claimed that I would receive more communication after we met over Zoom to talk about how the College could improve my Oberlin experience. I have yet to receive any further communication from this person about the matter, so the best I can assume is that all we accomplished was spreading my article around. That’s fantastic and spreads plenty of awareness, but it is a hollow victory if everyone hears you, but nobody listens.
There is a lot that I would change about Oberlin were it up to me, but I’ll list only a few examples here. In place of self-congratulatory behavior for achieving the bare minimum, I would like to see the College’s Educational Plans and Policies Committee and the Conservatory’s Educational Policies Committee not only continue their current work but also engage in more direct communication with Senate and students — check-ins, looking at current events and how that impacts the classroom, etc. All too often, the burden of trying to advocate for these things to change falls on students or Student Senate. If the College wants to talk about the value of physical health and COVID-19 safety protocols, then the same energy needs to be given to mental health. Professors should be proactive in altering class schedules and requirements as necessary to account for students’ needs right now, especially Black and Brown students, who face more obstacles than ever to completing coursework and simply surviving. Ideally, professors would make it so students do not have to take it upon themselves to reach out for an ounce of mercy; the College could require training for faculty to ensure they have the resources they need to support students. More active surveillance of student mental health is also in order. If the College wants numbers and statistics from Senate to prove that mental health is an issue, I wonder what has stopped them from gathering the data themselves. Simply noting that grades are high is not a nuanced enough metric to satisfy me. I would also like the College to pursue improved mental health initiatives beyond the spreading of the same set of resources, articles, and phone numbers one semester after another.
The need for action remains because avid Black trauma has yet to end in America. The recently attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 only further affirmed the divide in how policing occurs differently for different races in this country. As Black people, we have more and more reasons to be stressed and scared of the future; COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities while we simultaneously have less access to vaccinations. At least Oberlin has been relatively decent with its handling of the coronavirus, even if administrators often ignore their shortcomings.
The bottom line is that I am incredibly frustrated with how these events have gone awry and at the College’s abysmal attempts to collaborate with students and Senate. Time and time again, Student Senate needs to be reassured that the administration and the College are not opposing them. Yet College administrators have repeatedly shown that they seem not to value or want our help in changing things for the better. The entire pattern has brought me to a challenging crossroads as a student senator, where I must decide on a new way to serve Oberlin’s student population best. If nothing changes soon, the path I take may not involve working with the administration in the same capacity. I have endured a great deal thus far and am hesitant to work with administrators if these encounters continue to be unhelpful and inefficient.
One person who had also experienced chronic mistreatment in mental health work is my fellow Senator Arman Luczkow. His situation is so uniquely confusing that he has written a piece of his own.
That aside, I’m trying a new approach to tackling these issues and getting the College to care more about its students. I’ve already seen that it won’t help to just have more meetings about this with people who don’t want to fix the problem. So instead, I plan to write more articles such as these in the future. Hopefully, people won’t just read but will also internalize my message.