Student Senate announced the introduction of six new student positions on the College Strategic Planning Steering Committee this Thursday — a change which the administration and Senate hope will provide better representation for the student body during the Committee’s long-term planning process, which determines the trajectory of the College for the next several years.
After demonstrators last semester challenged the administration’s lack of transparency, Student Senate began working with President Marvin Krislov, Diane Yu and the other trustees to add six spots for current students to the Committee.
Student Senate pushed for this change at the end of last semester when it realized students needed more of a voice on the Steering Committee, according to Student Senator and College sophomore Jordan Ecker.
“It’s a 37-member committee, and prior to this they only had three students, but it’s pretty clear to me that the decisions they’re making are going to be affecting the students more than any other group,” said Ecker. “So because of this I think you need to involve students’ voices as much as possible.”
Before the additions, the Steering Committee was a group of 37, consisting of select administrators, faculty, trustees and students. Roughly every 10 years, a new Steering Committee is convened to design a Strategic Plan, which contains all of the College’s long-term decisions about admissions, diversity and strategies to increase revenue.
Previously, there were only three students on this panel, who were selected by the trustees after being reviewed by Senate.
Students applying for the new positions will undergo a different selection process, according to Ecker. Three of the six new students will be chosen by a vote that all students can participate in, while the other three will be chosen by Student Senate.
These additional student spots are an attempt to provide a way for students unhappy with the Steering Committee’s decisions to air their concerns. Student Senator and College fourth-year Megs Bautista said if the College wants to improve diversity, it doesn’t make sense to simultaneously plan to raise tuition.
“As an institution moving towards prioritizing financial accessibility, how does it make sense that their goal is also to increase revenue in the next 10 years?” said Bautista. “In the Student Senate, all our sirens went off, because one of our main priorities is to increase accessibility to low-income students and people of color.”
However, while having more students on the panel could improve relations between the student body and administrators, it may not affect the lack of student interest in applying for Oberlin’s long-term planning groups, such as the Student Senate and now the Steering Committee.
Bautista said many people of color are more concerned with running community-based organizations than participating in College-wide planning resulting in low participation rates.
“I think if folks realize that more can be done by working through administrative channels, they’d be more inclined to do it,” Bautista said. “Last semester I felt like my energy was better spent working for my group for Latina students than something that tries to mix all students, like Senate.”
College junior and Senate liaison Machmud Makhmudov, one of the three students already on the Steering Committee, says that with these new positions Senate will do more to improve student voter turnout.
“We’re going to be working very hard to make sure people understand the importance of having students working to create a plan for Oberlin’s future,” said Makhmudov. “In some ways Oberlin is a very segregated place. It’s hard because different student groups don’t always feel the effects of Senate’s decisions, so we’re going to try to increase outreach and make more people aware of how important this is.”
According to Makhmudov, first-years tend to vote in student elections, while upperclassmen are less concerned with student government.
According to Student Senator and College third-year Ty Wagner, the increased number of students on the committee will allow students to both speak and feel more comfortable during meetings.
“It’s great, because now you’ll have nine students in a room with all of the committee. Imagine being in a room with dozens of very serious and important people and trustees — it would be a little uncomfortable to say something the students want if there are only three of you,” said Wagner. “Now, with a bigger representation, it will definitely help us get our message across and value the students’ opinions more.”
Student applications for the Steering Committee are due Thursday, Feb. 12, and elections will be held at the same time as those for Student Senate.