The Student Senate Advisory Council held an open forum Wednesday night to discuss plans to improve relations between the College and the town community. Hosted by junior senator Jonathan Curley and sophomores senator Noah Kirshbaum, the brain-storming session was attended by students, faculty and community members interested in developing projects that promote College-town interaction.
Curley and Kirshbaum directed attendants into discussion groups dealing with four topics: students and downtown businesses; cars, bikes and off-campus housing; community service and education and "increased interaction." Participants responded to the topics by developing and discussing project ideas that would impact both the College and community in a mutually beneficial way.
Curley sees efforts to integrate the College and the town as a way of increasing awareness about the role students play within the community. As far as the current relationship between students and the community, Curley said, "Economic class can be a divisive factor."
He also thinks that many students do not acknowledge their impact on the surrounding community and its potential usefulness in their lives. "It's an important issue partly because a lot of students come in with a very isolating attitude that the town is insignificant," he said.
Next year, Curley hopes to facilitate the program as the liaison between the Oberlin Student Co-operative Association and the community. A volunteer list was circulated at the forum but anyone interested in the wide variety of projects can help out with their implementation. Though many of the project ideas have yet to be realized, like using grant money to hold "block-parties" for off-campus students and their neighbors, many are already underway.
For example, the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project has developed the Oberlin Dollar Program as part of a buy-local campaign. The program offers OSAP customers the opportunity to participate in the livelihood of the local businesses by making them competitive with larger chains.
"It's a way that students in the town can know where their money is going and support local businesses at the same time," states sophomore David Lewis, an OSAP coordinator who attended the forum.
Lewis said the relationship between the College and town bears tremendous significance in local development and long-term environmental sustainability. He emphasizes efforts toward building sustainability as a cooperative undertaking, "whether that's in the schools or the community."
As the City of Oberlin and Lorain County in general face increasing development, the need for the cohesive community response increases, according to those at the forum. As Environmental Studies Intern Brad Masi, who also attended the forum, states: "Local development is a College issue."
Masi said the issue of development will forges a new awareness of town-college interconnectedness. "This whole development issue has provided a place for town and College to come together and realized they have a shared fate," Masi said.
Project ideas relating to development included not only OSAP programs but the notion of providing remote parking facilities for Oberlin students.
Another forum participant, Ken Sloane, a townsperson and member of the city council, is particularly interested in promoting a program that would protect open spaces from development, as well as encourage students and faculty to drive less.
"It behooves the College to try to find ways to help people not use their cars. They might be able to avoid building another parking lot," said Sloane.
Other ideas generated by the meeting include expanding opportunities to receive academic credit for community service, holding one-day service opportunities, tree planting projects and increasing the link between students and local government.
Oberlin City Manager Robert DiSpirito suggested the initiation of an internship program enabling students to learn more about local government. "We're very open to considering students to work with us," DiSpirito states.
According to DiSpirito, the city sponsors many projects that lend themselves easily to student involvement. City projects currently underway include a proposed Main Street project, next autumn's Kid City project and the Underground Railroad.
Although most participants at the forum found the format a productive and engaging way to address town-college relations, many felt that the presence of townsfolk was lacking.
Junior Margeaux Shields noticed that many of the forum's approximately 25 participants were either student activists, faculty or community leaders with an already established relationship with the College.
In response to his own similar observations, Curley proposes that increased publicity for events like this may help diversify the players.
Echoing the sentiments of many participants, Shields also cautions that "we should make sure that we follow up on all these great ideas."
Copyright © 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 24, May 14, 1999
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