Each year, Oberlin’s Student Senate is required to put together a referendum to gather student opinions and amend the Student Constitution if necessary. Although the Student Senate has tried unsuccessfully to reach quorum for its Green Referendum since mid-October, the student body appears uninterested in voting.
According to former Student Finance Committee Co-Chair and College sophomore Reshard el-Shair, this year’s referendum is different from previous referendums in that it is the first to specifically address environmental concerns, such as the green theme and mandatory Sustainability Pledge of the new first-year dorm on North Professor Street, the movement away from disposable take-out containers in Dascomb and DeCafé, and the establishment of a local circulator bus that would provide free rides to Oberlin destinations such as the IGA, Drug Mart and CVS.
Student Senate has tried to get people to vote in a variety of ways, including going door-to-door in residence halls, changing the homepages in the libraries’ computers to the referendum’s voting page and giving students slips of paper with the page’s link. Despite these efforts, the referendum is still approximately 100 votes short of reaching quorum.
El-Shair stated three reasons for the lack of participation among the student body. “First, the majority of the student body does not care about Student Senate. Second, the previous referendum was very long and was widely recognized as so, even by the Senate. Although the Green Referendum is much shorter, students are assuming that it is just as long. And finally, people don’t want to take time out of their day to vote for something they believe means nothing.”
Despite the low turnout, this year’s referendum has received more votes than previous referendums. According to Student Senator and College sophomore Matthew Harris, “Although [Student Senate’s] expectations have not been met, the votes are still coming in and they still count. Everything is getting done in good time, and we’re doing much better this year than previous years,” Harris said.
In discussing students’ lack of participation, the Senators agreed that it is essential for students to voice their opinions. “When you’re in a community that runs with a governmental structure, you should par- ticipate and provide accurate input,” said el-Shair.
Student Senator and College senior Jules Brouillet added, “If you always want to be marginalized, under-represented, and shut out of the public policy-making pro- cess, you should continue to not respond to this referendum and ensure its failure. The alternative is to first vote in the referendum, to then follow through to ensure that your student government and college administration are held accountable to the mandates of the student body made known through this referendum, and finally, to make yourself more a part of the Oberlin community at large.”