Four senators resigned from the Student Senate this week, citing desires to restructure student government from the outside, not the inside. Senator juniors Joshua Kaye and Chapin Benninghoff resigned from the Senate in a meeting on Sunday. Senator sophomore Nicole Johnston and senator first-year Velia Lopez declared their intent to resign as well.
Benninghoff said, "The fundamental flaw is a structural problem. It can't be solved from within. I am disappointed in the people who are senators who remain without a mandate to act on representation of the student body."
Joel Whitaker, former senator and senior, said, "It's no mystery that the constitution is flawed. [It contains] pie-in-the-sky ideas about how excited Oberlin students are going to be in student government."
The resignations were not taken lightly by other senators. "I'm furious with the people resigning," senator junior Dan Persky said. Senator junior Whitney Smith said, "I'm upset over the resignations."
"There are some problems with the current structure, however there are reasons that we have this structure," Persky said. "Change could easily be made from how we work from day to day. I do not think we need to overhaul our constitution."
Lopez said, "I think the resignations are out of frustration that you're not having the support you need from students to make the [student body's] statement to the faculty, neccessary to make a change to the benefit of the student body."
The Senate has been riddled with frustrations over lack of power, alienation from the student body and an inability to work efficiently within their own meetings for several years. Kaye said, "Senate is ignored as a power structure by the administration, committees and students." Smith said, "We don't represent the student body."
Benninghoff said he does not fit the constitutional definition of a senator and thus must resign. He said, "I have no loyalty to Student Senate. My loyalty is to effective and representative student government, and that is a claim Senate can no longer make."
The Senate has seen the resignation of 14 senators in all since the start of the year, bringing the Senate number down from 30 to 16. If the Senate falls below 15, quorum could be called and the Senate meeting would be dissolved. An election will be held Saturday, but only two people are running to fill the 14 vacant seats.
Kaye said if people do not restructure the Senate before it dissolves, it will be created by the administration and not be in the best interest of students. Kaye said, "I'm glad to see the Senate as a place holder, but the Student Senate is defunct, I feel."
The resignations triggered optimism, sadness and frustration among Senators at the meeting. Senator sophomore Chucky Kamm said, "The crisis situation for me is exciting. It is relevant to what we are doing. This is a chance not to run away. If resigning is the only way to get an effective student government, I'll resign. There are problems, but let us look at specific problems we have and focus and do it."
Johnston said she thought students could be far more effective acting as individual students rather than senators. "I think we sit inside Senate meetings and talk and don't get anything done," Johnston said.
After the announcements of the resignations, the senators shared their opinions on the Senate's recent problems. One idea Benninghoff has for restructuring is organizing a forum with the entire student body and present the newly structured constitution in a massive student assembly.
Persky disagreed with this approach. He said, "If we go by our rules, we can actually get a lot done. There are reasons why we have work groups and internal committees. Thirty people can change this campus, we are the largest most powerful organization on campus".
After leaping into the center of the Senate's meeting saying "bipartisan, bipartisan, bipartisan," senator first-year Nathanial Stankard proposed that the Senate adopt and integrate both Benninghoff's and Persky's proposals.
Senator senior Claire Koczak suggested that Stankard's idea be shaped into a proposal. The proposal was raised by Koczak and will be voted on in the next Senate meeting.
Benninghoff and Johnston proposed a geographical representation system where students from each dorm are represented. This idea, he said, would give students specific people to talk to about what they want on the Senate's agenda.
The meeting ended as both Persky and Benninghoff shook hands despite their difference in views. Many expressed sadness at seeing those resigning leave. Senator first-year Bobbi Lopez said "I hope this doesn't become a power struggle, but a struggle to empower students."
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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