Out of concern for a lack of student participation in the long-range planning process, five additional student focus groups were set up this week. Students were urged to attend this week's meetings by a flier they received in their mailboxes, sent out by student representatives to the long range-planning committee.
Focus groups, sessions where participants discuss the long-term goals and direction of Oberlin, have been held for the past month. Long-range planning is the process by which the College hopes to determine coherent guidelines to steer College policies.
Junior Chapin Benninghoff, one of the student representatives who helped author the mailing, said that the additional focus groups were set up to "bring the process to the students." Benninghoff said that he and the other representatives were concerned that students did not feel welcome in the focus group discussions.
To encourage participation, the added focus groups were held in dorms and co-ops. Benninghoff said that the turnout for the additional focus groups was better than for previous ones, but not outstanding.
According to the flier, only 3 percent of students attended a group before this week.
A senior who wished to remain anonymous was among that majority. "I never really considered [going]. I figured enough other people would be interested, and I wouldn't say anything anyway," the student said.
Another reason organizers propose for students' disinterest in the focus groups is the difficulty they might have in seeing the effects of long-range planning on their lives. While faculty, 60 percent of whom have participated in the focus groups, can forsee that Oberlin will be a part of their lives in 20 years, students may not look beyond their short stay at Oberlin.
Junior and student senator Andreas Pape, who attended one of this week's focus groups, said that he felt the efforts made by the administration to encourage student involvement in the process have not been enough. "If the faculty and administration is serious about real student input, I don't think a few all-campus mailings and signs are enough," he said.
Pape said that he feels students don't believe their opinions and voice will be heard, even in the focus groups. "A lot of decisions have been made on campus where the students are notified after. If a lot of the student body feels separate from the decision process, they won't participate," Pape said.
Pape said that to improve the process, the College should first empower students, then ask them to participate.
Students cited various reasons for not participating in focus groups. A sophomore who wished to remain anonymous, said, "I just don't have the time."
Fenelon Delair, a college junior who didn't attend a focus group, said, "I'm really not attached to any activities on campus … I'm just here to get an education and I'm ready to go," he said.
Following the last of the focus groups, the consultation firm hired by the College to run the process will distill the notes from all the focus groups to find common concerns and trends. These will then be presented to the long-range planning committee and turned into issues teams.
The teams will be composed of faculty, staff and students. The teams will be working during January and February.
President Nancy Dye said that Winter Term projects will be organized for students to spend January working on an issues team.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 8; November 8, 1996
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