Focus groups. Issue teams. Advisory committee. Oberlin 2020. Long-range planning. These are the buzzwords and catchphrases describing President Nancy S. Dye's new initiative to begin shaping the future of Oberlin College.
This intense process was first brought to students' attention through a thought-provoking letter from the president in early September. As with most campus mail, a large percentage of those letters ended up in the recycling bins. But for those of us who took the time to read it, the letter provided a basis for beginning to think critically about Oberlin--academically, socially, economically, and politically. For me, it sparked an interest in finding a new way to be involved in Oberlin's present and future. I became very excited about being a part of molding Oberlin College as we enter the 21st century.
After becoming one of the five student members of the advisory committee in the fall, I was quickly made aware of the reality of student involvement. At that time, less than 5 percent of students had participated in the first step of the long-range planning process, the focus groups. The first focus groups were comprised mostly of faculty and administrators; the student voice was not being heard. The other student advisory committee members and I planned several student-oriented focus groups to increase participation. Through this experience, I soon realized that we were going to have to constantly remind well-intentioned administrators of the vast differences between their lives and students' lives. Students, unlike faculty and staff members, were unable and unwilling to attend two-hour meetings during the course of a weekday. Therefore, focus groups were set up around their schedules--which meant evening sessions--to increase participation.
Through these focus groups, students voiced opinions on the issues most directly affecting them. Issues of community and diversity, housing and dining, and communication arose frequently. Many students seemed troubled at first by the abstract and open-ended nature of the discussion questions that guided each focus group. Some were also disheartened by the realization that their participation now was not going to lead to a drastic policy change within their careers as Oberlin students.
I asked myself the same question as the other students: "Why get involved in a process out of which I will not directly see results?"
The answer is simple. When my children are ready to apply to college, I want to introduce them to Oberlin College with as much pride as I have in this institution now, if not more. I want the value of an Oberlin education to continue to rise above its already high level.
To those student skeptics, I say think not of Oberlin College as a place that you are just going to pass through in a few years, but as an experience that will follow you throughout life. I challenge all students to be a part of the process to keep Oberlin on the cutting edge of nurturing brains and talents to change the world.
To alumni, I ask you to participate in dialogue with students and the administration about the differences you perceive in the Oberlin you attended and the current Oberlin. Let us help one other through this process, reviving the questioning, challenging, analytical nature of the Oberlin student in us all, and channeling that energy to form the Oberlin College of 2020.
--Andrea Hargrave '99
Andrea Hargrave, a student member of the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee, is a double-degree junior majoring in piano performance and economics. She is also a member of Abusua, business manager for The Oberlin Review, and a resident coordinator.
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