On Sunday, March 13, Student Senate will host a panel called “What does Senate do?” in an attempt to educate the student body about Senate’s purpose, goals and past achievements. This comes in the face of criticism, as many students are currently questioning the very effectiveness of the Senate. All 15 members of Senate and Associate Dean of Community Life Shozo Kawaguchi will sit on the panel and seek to answer questions about what Senate does.
“I often hear people say that Senate does nothing,” said new Senator and Conservatory junior Rebecca Hargrove. “I think that’s from the people that don’t really know all of the things [Senate has] to go through. You just find out new policies and they don’t explain to you [that] a group of students worked really hard to make this happen for you.”
Another new senator, College sophomore Eliana Golding, agrees with this assessment. “I have heard a number of people saying, like, ‘Senate doesn’t do anything. Senate’s dumb,’ but I think they just don’t realize how much Senate does,” said Golding.
The senators’ desire to improve Senate’s image comes in the wake of the recent removal College senior Pete Sabo, and the resignations of several Senators including College senior Patrick Doherty and College junior Marlo Barrera.
Barrera, who resigned last week, said in an e-mail to the Review, “I decided to resign because Student Senate was not a priority any longer. I have seen too many students coast on Student Senate and take up space without actually doing anything. I have the respect for Student Senate and the student body not to do that.”
Barrera also expressed a desire to see Senate adapt a system that would hold senators more accountable.
“I would like to see a new system that is actually able to measure accountability and has consequences for senators not pulling their weight,” wrote Barrera.
New senator and double-degree sophomore Mandy Hogan agrees with Barrera, and views the current point system, which penalizes students for failing to perform certain duties such as attending meetings, as flawed.
“I think the point system has very good intentions of holding senators accountable but I don’t think it does a good job of measuring productivity because as long as senators aren’t late and make all of their meetings, they aren’t kicked off Senate,” said Hogan.
Dean of Students Linda Gates, who attends Senate meetings bi-weekly, believes the idea that Senators are not working hard is a misconception.
“I have known and observed many, many Senators over the last couple of decades and what has continued to impress me is the vast amount of time Student Senate can demand from Senators who take their work seriously — and that is the vast majority of students who serve in this capacity,” said Gates. “I admire the senators who put themselves out there and try to help students solve problems and answer questions. Whether it is directing them to the appropriate resources or leading [and] promoting a forum to educate the campus, [Senators] put a lot of energy and time into the work they do.”
Senators like College junior Savitri Sedlacek believe that more interactions between Senate and the student body are needed.
“I think mainly [we need] more collaboration with the student body and getting people to know how Senate works,” said Sedlacek. “We all have to hold office hours every week and different things like that which have the potential to be really great tools [for] both the students and the senators, but unfortunately aren’t being utilized as effectively as possible.”
In addition to the panel, Senate is looking for other ways to reach out to the student body, including possibly introducing first-years to Student Senate during orientation and incorporating interested students on panels and committees.
Some senators believe that student perceptions of Senate are already in the process of shifting for the better. Senate Liaison and College sophomore Ilyssa Meyer cites high student attendance at the last plenary meeting as evidence of a change in student perception of Senate.
“I think that perception [of the average Oberlin student] is definitely shifting lately,” said Meyer, “[At] the plenary of last semester, there was more outside business than there were senators, which is really very impressive.”
This semester, seven out of the 15 senators are new to Senate — a fact that many hope will bring new energy to Senate’s work.
It’s exciting,” said Golding, “I think that just from the last Senate meeting — it went so well — I just had a lot of fun. The people there are really energetic and excited and passionate. If anything, we have a lot of energy and I think that’s cool.”