Photo courtesy of Iyanna Lewis

I spent my first semester in Student Senate hiding on the sidelines. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the qualifications to be on Senate, but I felt like I was in over my head. Honestly, I never expected myself to be a student senator; I just knew that I cared about my Black friends, and I wanted everyone to hear and support the amazing things they were doing. Recently though, the success of the fall 2021 #BlackOutSenate campaign represents an important step towards centering Black student voices in the decisions made for and by the College.

I’ve become more confident using my voice and speaking up, but I still had doubts about how people perceived me and my actions. Because of COVID-19, we were constantly challenged by issues that previous senators never had to face. I felt like I was expected to fix everything that was wrong with Oberlin. The imposter syndrome I faced made it difficult for me to accomplish much in my first semester. Thankfully, I have gained a lot of knowledge and confidence by watching and working with  former Senate Chair Henry Hicks, OC ’21, and former Senate Vice-Chair Jasmine Mitchell, OC ’21. They tackled every single issue head-on and positively impacted the school as a whole, despite the odds stacked against them. We all owe them a huge thanks. 

I think that the first #BlackOutSenate campaign was a nice wake-up call for the school to recognize the need to support Black students on this campus. But we also need to realize that changing the demographics was not the end of the work, but the beginning. Although I am thrilled that Black students will make up the majority of the Senate in the fall, I can’t help but worry that a predominately Black Senate with no white students will be met with even more resistance from the administration and student body. Fighting for racial equity and justice should not always fall on the backs of marginalized students — if that had been the goal of Senate, there would not have been a need for the #BlackOutSenate campaign in the first place. This work should be continued and institutionalized, regardless of the racial makeup of Senate. That being said, we have some amazing students making up the 2021–22 Senate who will all accomplish exciting and necessary things, and I hope Oberlin is ready for us.