By Owen Henry
It isn’t often that a reporter enters a Senate meeting with an agenda, or at least it shouldn’t be. But this past plenary, the third held by Senate this year, was different. During the preceding weekend, both my mentor David Clark and I had become incensed by an editorial in the Review. Our anger came not from our roles within Fearless and Loathing, but instead as members of the Oberlin student body. It was, and remains, our opinion that the paper of record for Oberlin College should not be slighted by the lack of a Department of Journalism. Knowing no other way to raise this issue with members of authority, we had jointly decided to bring this matter to Senate. Thus, I approached this Plenary not only as a reporter, but as a student seeking to avail himself of the processes of Senate. Both David and I hoped they could help. For my part, I also hoped that what I was about to say did not jeopardize my ongoing effort to cover Student Senate as an impartial observer of government.
One of the first orders of business for Senate that evening was to adjust the agenda to accommodate a request for discussion by Senator Connor Stratton ’13, who wished to speak with Senate concerning a column he would be writing in the Review about “senatorial issues”. No further explanation was given.
Once the agenda has been approved, it was time for outside business. Although I had discussed raising an issue with the Senate Liaison Ilyssa Meyer ’13, prior to the meeting, apparently the presence of Fearless and Loathing was by this point so accepted that we were initially forgotten. However, both David and I quickly spoke up as matters of Outside Business. After briefly recounting the editorial and our grievance with it, we were given a quick introduction to using the Senate’s discussion system and were questioned by the Senators. Most were initially confused with why we were bringing this matter to Senate.
“I’m just curious as to what you see our role as Senate being,” asked Liaison Meyer. “The only way to really get involved with a student organization is to go to them and work with them.”
Senator Mandy Hogan saw the matter as wholly outside the Senate’s purview. “Senate is supposed to act as a liaison between the students we represent and the institution itself, not between the Review and other students.”
Senator Gracy Amber ’13 disagreed. “I believe this is a Senate issue, not in that we should be telling the Review what they’re doing wrong, but I think it is a good idea to examine what’s going on with this. I feel a little caught off guard because it’s not something I’ve thought about, but I think it’s something I’d like to look into a little bit more.”
“I’m personally very interested in it,” said Senate Treasurer Nick Bauer ’12, “And although our knee-jerk reaction is that the Senate doesn’t have much to do here, but I think there’s creativity in the role of the Senate. And I know I will consider any ways that this can be addressed.”
With that, Senate moved on to other pressing issues, one of which was the role Afrikan Heritage House as a program house on campus. Senator Eli Diop ’15, is one of the house’s RAs, and she expressed concern that the community within the dorm suffered due to a lack of admission requirements. Citing Baldwin and the various language houses as examples, Senator Diop said she felt that the house should be “more exclusive, to really serve the greater purpose that A-House was founded for.”
Again, the Senators expressed incredulity. “As a tour guide,” said Senator Eliana Golding ’13, “You always say that you don’t have to be ‘x’ to live in ‘x house’. And that’s generally true. You just have to have an interest.”
One of the factors leading to the house’s non-exclusivity is the low number of annual applicants for residence. Diop herself understands this is a problem. “We end up having a lot of open rooms and they just put students there, and that’s the part that I think should be modified. When there are students placed [in the house] who don’t have a general interest living there, they don’t really add to the community. So maybe if students are just going to be placed there, they should have to go through the application process as well.”
Senator Alex Posa ’12 had a simple response. “They need to fill rooms. They just need to put people in the rooms.”
The discussion ended with Senator Diop resolving to raise the issue with Molly Tyson, Director of ResEd, in a meeting on Tuesday.