In the Locker Room with Natalie Dufour, Volleyball Player, Political Organizer


Photo Courtesy of Amanda Phillips

Natalie Dufour, volleyball player and aspiring Politics major.

Second-year Natalie Dufour is a middle hitter on the volleyball team, where she has been setting career-high block assists for multiple games. Volleyball isn’t her only passion, however — she is also a Peer Advising Leader, the Vice President for Academic Affairs on Student Senate, a member of Sunrise, and a Cole Scholar, where she is currently campaigning for Charles Booker’s U.S. Senate campaign in her home state of Kentucky.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you pick Oberlin?

I knew that I really wanted to play volleyball in college, and I also wanted to go to a small liberal arts school that was known for its academics., so I started reaching out to coaches and going through the recruiting process. In the end, it was down to two schools: Oberlin and a school in Pennsylvania, and I visited both. When I got to Oberlin and saw the campus, I really disliked it. I told my mom, “I can’t go here. It is way too flat and none of the buildings match.” Then during my tour, the tour guide was really nice, and then I met the team for one practice. We had dinner afterward at the Feve, and I was introduced to the legendary tater tots.

Immediately I felt like something clicked. I felt like I could automatically have a home and a place where I fit in. Also, it was a very diverse team — people from all over the country, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, which is really cool because I haven’t been exposed to that being on a volleyball team in the middle of rural Kentucky. The other school I visited was my perfect location and ideal campus, but the team was full of a bunch of white girls from Pennsylvania. I was like, “I can’t do this again, ’cause this is my high school.” When I chose Oberlin, I knew it was the right choice when my number — number 11 — was open. And it has been the right choice.

How has your experience on the team been?

It’s been really incredible. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through my first year without the girls on the team. You have this group of people that are never going away because you love each other, you’re there for each other. We are all sisters in a way. It’s also been nice being part of the athlete community, having this group of people who I know I can be like, “Oh, I saw your game,” and automatically start conversations.

What else do you do on campus?

I’m the Vice President of Academic Affairs on Student Senate. In my role this year, I’ve been meeting with various individuals and groups like the Academic Advising Resource Center, the library board, which I’m on, Dean Kamitsuka, and students on our committee. We try to figure out how we can best enhance the academic experience of students on campus and make sure that students know that the administration and the student government want to listen to them and their concerns.

I’m also a part of Sunrise; I’ve been part of it the whole time I’ve been at Oberlin. Sunrise is an environmental justice organization that works under the banner of the Green New Deal, and I worked in a similar climate justice organization during high school. We’re currently working on affordable and sustainable housing in the city of Oberlin, so it’s great getting to work with the local government and officials and dealing with climate problems that really affect all of us.

Finally, I’m also a Peer Advising Leader. Last semester, all the PALs taught a course on climate change. I got to talk about one of my passions and also connect with students who maybe weren’t fully decided about Oberlin.

What academic areas are you interested in, and what are your majors and minors if you have decided yet?

I am planning on declaring a Politics major and Spanish and French minors. When I was trying to think about what I wanted to major in, I was talking to my mom because I was like, “All these colleges are asking me to put what my preferred major is or what I wanna study. I don’t know what I wanna major in.” She said “Natalie, what do you care about? What do you want to do with your life?” I just told her, “I wanna help people.” Politics seemed to be a way that I could work to maybe enact large-scale change in our society.

A year ago, I applied for the Cole Scholars Program, and I was one of 11 students accepted. We took an electoral politics class last spring semester and were placed on political campaigns across the country. I went home for the summer to work on Charles Booker’s race. He is running against Rand Paul, one of the current Kentucky senators in the U.S. Senate. Booker is the person who inspired me to be interested in politics in the first place; he seemed like he actually cared about the people that he was representing rather than money, power, or things that it seems other politicians primarily care about.

It was great to be able to go back and work for his campaign. I got to meet so many great people and see that change is possible in an extremely rural and red-voting state like Kentucky. I’ve continued working for the campaign this fall, and I’m actually going back this weekend for Election Day so I can do everything I can to push for this victory that Kentucky really needs.