Oberlin Youth Council Tackles Accessibility, Transportation

Adam Gittin, News Editor

After 15 years of inactivity, the Oberlin Youth Council, a group working to bring civic-minded students of diverse backgrounds together to consider issues faced by the community, has reformed. These middle school, high school and college students take time out of the school week to meet at the public library and discuss what they can do to make Oberlin a better place to live.

Accessibility was a recurring topic at this Wednesday’s meeting. The council’s first two goals are to make Philips gym more open to non-College students and to increase Oberlin’s public transportation resources.

“I grew up here, and also my parents work at the College, so I got to see what it was like when somebody didn’t know that I was the child of somebody who worked at the College versus when they knew my parents were professors,” said Oberlin High School junior Nyima Coleman.

There is a clear disparity, Coleman said, between how campus security and town police treat people affiliated with the College and how they deal with community members.

One of the Youth Council’s objectives is to better unite the College and the town.

“I would also have to echo Nyima’s point about College-community member relations,” said College junior Tony Moaton. “As someone not from here who has become an Ohio citizen and who has stayed here throughout the year, I’ve noticed how different it is here in the summer.”

Moaton said that when he talks with local business owners during the summer months, they tend to lament how slow and quiet things get. As a member of the Bonner Scholar Program, Moaton spends his community service time with the Youth Council to help bridge the gap between College and community spaces.

“[College students] are so lucky to have Oberlin as a place to be, and we have so many resources for teaching each other about really important things … through workshops and clubs and activities,” said College junior Maya Gillett, adding that many opportunities are less available to town residents and public school students.

“We could be sharing this knowledge so much more widely,” she said. “There’s no reason that it needs to be limited to College students.”

Tessa Newson, a seventh grader at Langston Middle School, agreed that the College often eclipses the town. Tessa participates in the Bonner Center’s Ninde Scholars Program, which offers tutoring and college preparatory services to a small group of seventh to twelfth graders.

“There’s a lot of places in Oberlin that the College owns,” Tessa said, adding that she thinks public school students would appreciate better access to the College’s resources, like Philips gym.

The council members discussed how it could be tricky to connect all the different parts of a college town, but that doing so was essential for the city of Oberlin to exist on an equal footing with the College.

“I’m from where the University of Kansas is, in Lawrence, and I remember growing up in that dynamic; there are all these students coming in, they don’t really know Lawrence, they don’t really know Kansas, and it was a weird place to grow up,” said College first-year Sadie Keller. “So when I got to Oberlin, I wanted to make sure I was a conscious student and [that] I knew the area around Oberlin College before considering myself part of the community.”

Sadie said that she wants to work with local youth and help move toward a future where the town and College are more interconnected.

High school sophomore Koki Takada expressed a similar desire to give back to the community.

“I’m helped by many people, so I want to do something for people,” said Takada, a Japanese exchange student sponsored by the Rotary Club of Oberlin. In addition to the Youth Council, Takada works for the Oberlin Interact Club’s Backpack Program and the Oberlin Weekday Community Meals (known as “Hot Meals”) to help provide food to community members in need.

To work toward increasing access to the College Facilities, the Youth Council is conducting surveys in the middle school and high school to determine how many of the students would use Philips gym if given the opportunity, or whether those students would prefer their own schools’ gyms to be open longer instead.

The Youth Council got a jumpstart last September after nearly 15 years of inactivity, and the group has been growing ever since. Tania Boster, director of student leadership programs at the Bonner Center, facilitates the council’s meetings, but the students are the ones who ultimately drive the weekly gatherings focused on community service, connections and inclusion.