The Oberlin Stories Project

On being a part of the Student Finance Committee

Abbas Mohsin ’13

“Oberlin retains a special place in my heart because of the people, and being part of the student organization at the core of student life on campus helped me cultivate those friendships.”

Group of students seated on a staircase

I’ve served on Oberlin College’s Student Finance Committee (SFC) for more than two years, cochairing the committee for a year and a half through my sophomore and junior years. Appointed annually by Student Senate, the SFC’s seven members are tasked with allocating the entirety of the Student Activity Fund to student organizations and student-led projects, which amounts to more than $1 million every year. It’s a lot of money that students at Oberlin use effectively to enhance the experience of student life on campus. It’s a vehicle for students to take initiative, be creative, and bring their ideas to life, whether it’s augmenting the vibrant art community through holding art exhibitions and student-produced theater shows, promoting discourse through inviting guests to speak on campus, or leading a community-based project in the town of Oberlin.

When I joined SFC in my freshman year, I never imagined it would end up being the defining experience of my Oberlin career. Like many stories, it’s one of humble (and confused) origins that involves confronting ambiguity, a dash of perseverance, and making the most of a given situation.

I first interviewed for the SFC in September of my freshman year. Each year there’s a spot that’s reserved for an incoming freshman. I was looking at majoring in economics and had an affinity for numbers, so my RA, then cochair of SFC, thought I would be a good fit and would enjoy the work. When I was ushered into the room for my interview, I was taken aback by the turnout: a total of 30 students from every branch of student government were huddled around a large table to interview me. They all seemed excited to get to know me, but I would have preferred to make the acquaintance of only a few on the occasion. Any semblance of composure on my part had been destroyed as I was motioned to take a seat. Words escaped me as soon as the barrage of questions began. The rest is history. I didn’t get in.

Well, not that time, at least.

Six months later, I interviewed again for a spot that just opened, and I was finally appointed to the Student Finance Committee.

To be completely honest, my interest in the SFC had stemmed from the desire to have a paying job that could find its way onto my résumé. It soon became the gateway for me to not only do my fair part in contributing to the Oberlin community, but cultivating lifelong friendships with my colleagues on the committee. Dealing with a limited budget and an abundance of requests, we had to make some difficult decisions about where to allocate money and where to make cuts. This is where the strength of a diverse and cohesive committee shone. We had also started to see an increase in unprecedented requests in the last few semesters including requests for joining protests, creating stipended student positions in organizations and five-digit sums for single, large events. In such tough situations without a clear solution, it was reassuring to bounce ideas off of my peers, whom I have come to deeply trust and respect over the course of many semesters working together. In the end we collectively hashed out solutions that will now continue to serve as precedent for future years.

I brought along great ambitions for the committee when I became cochair in the spring of my sophomore year. Not all came to fruition. Rather than be disheartened when I look back, I try to remember how I first got on the committee. Had I not stubbornly pursued the position for a good seven months, my Oberlin experience would have been completely different. I would not have had the privilege to work with and befriend a group of bright and extremely driven students, both in student government and student organizations, as well as members of the college administration. Oberlin retains a special place in my heart because of the people, and being part of the student organization at the core of student life on campus helped me cultivate those friendships.

The most important thing I learned from my experiences with SFC was that there are these hidden opportunities to be taken advantage of at Oberlin: it’s a safe space to experiment and learn to get out of your comfort zone. Everyone is engaged in the process of discovery and expansion of their horizons; it’s Oberlin that provides the community that makes college a wonderful journey of self-exploration and of memorable experiences that I’ll cherish and reminisce upon fondly when I leave.