CELA Resources Should Be More Equitably Distributed to Student Body

In November of the fall semester, I, along with several other students within the class of 2025, was invited to join Director of Fellowships and Awards Nick Petzak for a “sophomore celebration.” Co-sponsored by the Office of Fellowships and Awards and the Center for the Applied Liberal Arts, it was a small dinner celebration with the goal of informing selected students of a range of opportunities they might be interested in applying to.

“We are interested in helping you build on your success,” the email inviting us to the event read. “Some terrific staff members will be on hand, as will some students who have already won awards or fellowships at Oberlin. We will let you know about opportunities and resources that may be able to support your work in the future.”

The event was wonderful, and I enjoyed myself. The information I received and resources I was provided with were also of great benefit to me. But I couldn’t ignore a nagging question in the back of my mind: Why should some students’ success be prioritized over others? Now, as I am applying to the fellowships and research opportunities I learned about at the event, the question has continued to irk me.

I recognize the irony within this question and the hypocrisy of me, someone who directly benefits from this, being the one to ask it. But with the acknowledgment of this privilege and the opportunities given to me, I want to take a second look at the other side of the coin.This comes with thinking, outside myself, about the students who weren’t invited to this event and who didn’t walk home with an outline of all the grants and opportunities accessible to them, or, more importantly, a sense that the school was recognizing them and reaching out an extra hand of support. That hand had only been extended to students whose “record at Oberlin has been impressive.” 

This begs the question: Whose records at Oberlin can be considered “impressive” just a few months into their second year? Of course there are very strict requirements for certain fellowships and opportunities — take the Fulbright Sophomore UK Summer Institute application, which requires applicants to have a 3.7 minimum GPA to be considered. That is equivalent to an A- grade average. Students will only have taken around 12 classes by the time they begin the application process at the end of their first semester of their second year. One bad grade in a student’s first semester of their first year could change their access to these resources dramatically. But that only furthers my point. The line that defines a student as impressive or not is thin and subject to change at any point. So why single out and divide a class that hasn’t even begun to leave its mark on campus? 

Yes, anyone can type “Oberlin fellowship opportunities” on their computer and be pointed in the direction of CELA and its staff. If anything, this article should encourage every student to do so and take advantage of all Oberlin has to offer. But this specific dinner set the tone and created a division between those who were invited and those who weren’t. It added to this overall idea of separating students into categories based on merit and contribution to their school. Speaking as someone who was grouped into the low-performing and low-contributing sections of my schools for most of my life, it never helped me to know I wasn’t the cream that rose to the top. This system only inhibits students from gaining the confidence to advance and grow. And if your friend is telling you all about this special dinner they’re attending that you weren’t invited to, that can’t be fun either. 

It’s worth stopping and taking a moment to say this: My aim is not to take away or minimize the successes of the students invited to the dinner. Being highlighted for your hard work and contribution to campus is something to be proud of, and I know I am still proud of that work and getting an invitation. This statement has nothing to do with students’ merit or work levels and isn’t meant to belittle or diminish any student. This critique falls on staff and staff alone. I appreciate all the work the College has done to create these resources. I just want to point out that Oberlin’s mission and values define the Oberlin campus as “dedicated to recruiting a culturally, economically, geographically, and racially diverse group of students,” and states that, “interaction with others of widely different backgrounds and experiences fosters the effective, concerned participation in the larger society so characteristic of Oberlin graduates.” I merely ask that we do better in honoring that statement when distributing resources and opportunities. 

Send out that list of resources to the entirety of the student body, even if it was only crafted for some. Specifically, highlight and reach out to students of color, as I also noted a lack of diversity at the dinner. Instead of having students come to you, go to them and be in their spaces, ready to give out information and support. I thank the CELA staff for all the hard work they’ve done and continue to do as a resource for students on campus. But we can and should push each other to improve and be there for all.