Oberlin Blogs

The Little Proposal That Could

December 15, 2009

Eli Goldberg ’12

I came to Oberlin, in no small part, because of OSCA - something I've talked about a lot.  I also came to Oberlin, in no small part, because I'm trans*, and I wanted a school where that just wouldn't be a big deal.  This campus is progressive, laid-back, and accepting in a way that few other places are.  And it's a place where things change - where people aren't afraid to chip away at big problems, bit by bit, to make things better.

So I came to Oberlin... and last week those two things, OSCA and trans activism, ended up coming together in a mindblowingly exciting way.

As an innocent young first-year, I volunteered to represent Harkness on the OSCA board.  We get all types of people on the board: diehard co-op dogmatists who swear by our bylaws; pedants who scrutinize every character of last week's minutes; mediators who weave delicate compromises after hours of debate ... and timid, curious first-years who just want to know more about OSCA.  Guess which one I was.  How many 18-year-olds are up for representing 110 people on the board of a multi-million dollar corporation?  Suddenly I was taking a no-credit crash course in law, political theory, and direct democracy - and I loved it.

At the same time, I joined the Trans Advocacy Group.  I'd never actually talked face-to-face with another trans person, and suddenly I was in a room full of folks who spoke my language and understood my experiences. We talked about the things that were awesome and the things that really needed to change. And I thought, "Hey - I'm on the OSCA board..."

So I wrote something - let's call it The Little Proposal That Could.  The idea was pretty simple: making it easier for trans folks who were having housing issues to get into more comfortable living situations in OSCA.  I labeled it a first draft and sent it to the board.

The Little Proposal That Could didn't stand a chance, but I walked out of the meeting with pages of notes.  For two semesters, the proposal became my baby.  I read through old board minutes, reworked and reworded, even had a lawyer take a gander.  We caucused the proposal again and again, crafting it carefully, oiling the sticking points until they disappeared.  Finally, it was done: four comprehensive, elegant pages of bad-ass trans activism, couched in legal terms and polished until they shone.

Last week, the final version of the proposal was passed - unanimously, and with a round of applause. I don't think a single person wasn't grinning, didn't feel the tide of joy that swept through the room. I won't lie: I almost jumped up and danced on the table. Suddenly, after three semesters of work, we're one big step closer to guaranteeing safe, comfortable housing for everyone.

And that was just the start. As I was leaving the meeting, my friend Matt came up to me - he's the Student Senate liaison to OSCA, and an all-around awesome kid - and what he said was something like, "Yo, this is exactly the kind of thing I want to get involved in. What can we do next?" So we started to talk: about writing letters to the Review, creating a coalition on campus, reaching out to offices and student groups, holding open meetings, petitioning, drafting policies. This is the reason I came to Oberlin - not because it is perfect, but because it's a place where one person can write a proposal to one student organization, and launch something a whole lot bigger.

I walked home from the meeting with a group of jubilant friends. We stopped at Gibson's to pick up some snacks, and then, camped out in a friend's room, we had the dorkiest celebration ever.  It went something like this: "We Are The Champions" blasting at a loud-enough-to-be-festive-but-not-bothering-the-neighbors volume; cold cider; pita with avocados; an Oberwiki-updating party; a lot of enthusiasm for the future; and a lot of bad puns.

And then, like the ecstatic kindergarteners we secretly are, we had a being-quiet contest. 'Cause we had homework to finish.

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