Vote on Senate’s Bylaws Referendum

Student Senate has been working overtime to promote our recent Bylaws Referendum. For those who don’t know, Senate has been hard at work to reform our bylaws for several months. We made many valuable and necessary changes, but one of the most important to me was the institutionalization of several new positions. The Conservatory Representative, International Students Representative, and Racial Equity Senate Committee Chairperson are just a handful of the positions we need to make permanent by passing this referendum. For reference, we had to reelect and verify these and similar positions at the beginning of each semester before this change. The current bylaws do not guarantee the existence of these positions — which has made for a slow and inefficient reassessment process each time positions needed filling.

Senate would love to act immediately on all of these changes, but we can’t do so without 50 percent of the student body voting to certify them. Under normal circumstances, this scale of turnout would already pose a challenge, even without pandemic-induced obstacles — not to mention that we would have had several months to plan reforms. Instead of these conditions, we have burnt-out senators taking time away from overwhelming workloads to push this survey. Typically, we have months to advertise referendums, but we only have until Sunday, April 18, to get 1,468 student responses for this one. As of writing this article, we have 820. To say we’re stressed right now is an understatement. 

We honestly don’t have the time or capacity for this, given how dismal the semester is already. As is, several projects have been pushed back for months or canceled entirely because of the strain of the pandemic. For instance, we have been trying to compile each senator’s hours for the previous fall semester in a Google Sheet. We wanted to verify the enormous amount of work and time we put into Student Senate, to get the 10-hour pay cap raised or removed. Most senators have not had the free time to even sit down and compile these hours. We’re in a position where our team is too overworked to even advocate for better treatment. 

It is not lost on me that the Student Senate has a Black majority in a series of semesters where Black trauma abounds. Life was hard enough when the Derek Chauvin trial was one of the only tragic national headlines related to Black lives and the fight for equality. Now, even two weeks after my last piece, the trial continues. In that same period, Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright fell victim to police brutality. The video of Lt. Caron Nazario getting pepper sprayed, shoved to the ground, and threatened at gunpoint by police officers plays over and over in my mind. 

The struggles we’re pushing through academically — during a pandemic at that — are irregular. The negative energy coupled with the constant trauma of the news cycles reporting more cases of brutality is incredibly triggering. It will only harm our quality of work moving forward. While all Black senators feel dread looking at the state of the world, I especially feel for our Chair, Vice-Chair, and Race Relations and Equity Liaison, who cannot take a break from this work — no matter how necessary it may be.

However, as usual, Student Senate has risen to the challenge, determined to spread the word. I recently worked with my partner in crime, Arman Luczkow, to ad hoc for a cookie giveaway event designed to get students to fill out the referendum form using a sweet bribe. The Communications Working Group drafted and sent out a persuasive email to department chairs asking them to share the survey with their majors on Monday. We’ve also sent out daily emails since April 12 reminding students to vote. On top of this, the Student Life Working Group has been reaching out to various student organizations to work on getting the word out as well. I got the ball rolling by sending the first of these emails to the cultural cohorts I oversee. 

Some senators are planning in-person events, while others are working on remote engagement. To make the form more enticing, we also arranged a giveaway where everyone who votes is entered for the chance to win a Nintendo Switch and a copy of Tetris 99. Various senators have also been editing and sharing a condensed version of the bylaws and information about the giveaway on social media. Our own Ava Brown and Amber Scherer even gave out candy near the Conservatory this past Tuesday while advertising the survey. No matter how you look at it, people are working overtime to get this done against seemingly impossible odds. Still, I’m not entirely sure we can reach the 50 percent voter threshold in time. 

That’s why I’m using this week’s piece in the Review as a last resort — because I’m that desperate. Our elections, the work that Arman and I are doing regarding lost items, and Student Senate’s general operations cannot continue in the same capacity without a change, not when our team is as strung out as it currently is. I’m not sure how much longer Senate can manage under these conditions — and I do not want to find out. 

If you care even remotely about Student Senate’s work or Oberlin’s ability to function, please do me a favor: Share this form, fill it out if you haven’t already, and share this piece with other Obies. Please help make our jobs and lives simpler by getting us to that 50 percent threshold we desperately need.