Young leaders represent their fellow students’ needs through the Conservatory Council of Students.
College students nationwide are navigating a new reality: finishing spring semester via laptop. Remote learning is a sudden change, but in typical Oberlin fashion, students are actively supporting one another as the world adjusts to its new normal. The Conservatory Council of Students is ready for the challenge.
“The council’s original mission was to connect communities within the conservatory,” says Cordelia Mutter, council president and a fourth-year, double-degree student majoring in cello performance and English. “As we’ve grown, we’ve done bigger projects that involve more of campus. Now our first and foremost job is to advocate for the conservatory and its students. A large part of our work is feeling heard in campuswide decisions; it’s something we pay a lot of attention to.”
Students from all class years play important roles in conservatory representation. Mutter got an up-close look at the Con Council in her first year when a fellow cello student served as president. In the three years that followed, Mutter was elected treasurer, vice president, and most recently president.
“We’ve made strong efforts to involve more and more of the school, and the scope of our projects continues to expand,” she says. “Conservatory voices will lead Oberlin’s future.”
In this era of remote learning, the council now stands to play a greater role than ever. In recent weeks, it has provided regular updates to students on Oberlin’s response to COVID-19 and sought feedback as the administration reexamines its grading system and plans for graduation. In late March, the council shared a thoughtfully curated collection of resources that had been filling student inboxes from multiple departments on campus. Its members continue to meet remotely with the Office of the Dean of the Conservatory.
“One of the many helpful aspects of CCS is that they’re able to communicate information from students that we don’t have,” says Chris Jenkins, the conservatory’s associate dean for academic support. “Both myself and Dean [Catherine] Sherman are available via phone, Zoom, and by virtual appointment, but without daily interactions in the building, it’s more difficult to ‘take the pulse’ of the student body.”
Con Council’s strong presence on campus and through social media has enabled the collection of feedback from a considerable number of students. And the council has a notable track record of achieving favorable results: Among numerous other initiatives, it produces the annual Children’s Holiday Concert as well as Con Prom, an end-of-year dance that has become a campus favorite. In the past year, the council shared feedback with administrators on revisions to Oberlin’s recital scheduling system.
Also in the past year, the council spearheaded the revival of the Sky Bar, a glass-walled café and meeting area suspended between the conservatory’s Robertson Hall and Kohl buildings. The request came in response to the recent transformation of Dascomb Dining Hall into a new Student Health and Counseling Center, a welcome move among students but one that resulted in longer walks to Oberlin’s main dining hall on the north side of campus. Members of Con Council noticed the problem, solicited student feedback, and met with Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo.
“Small things like eating on North campus turn out to be not so small,” says Mutter. “We’d been hearing talk about how dining hall changes were making it difficult for students to get lunch and make it to large ensemble rehearsals on time, so we sent out polls via email and social media. And the evidence was overwhelming: There was just not enough time to make it to Stevenson Dining Hall and back, pack up a bass, and still arrive 10 minutes before downbeat. We knew it would be like that, but it was so important to bring data into our meeting with Dean Raimondo.”
More than 200 students—representing better than one-third of the conservatory population—responded to polls about food access.
“Those responses really hit a chord with the administration, so they brought in Sky Bar quickly,” says Mutter. “First it was trial lunch, and then permanent lunch, and then it was trial breakfast, and then permanent breakfast, and now it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.”
Sky Bar now operates from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. five days a week, providing a welcome option for busy conservatory students as well as faculty and staff.
“Discussing how to improve conservatory dining is exactly the kind of feedback we want from CCS,” says Jenkins. “We want to know what students are asking for, and the input council collected helped us to better serve the student body. I would definitely count Sky Bar as an example of a fruitful collaboration between CCS and the deans.
“I hope CCS continues its record of strong leadership,’’ he says. ‘‘They help us better understand student needs, so from our perspective, they’re a great partner and a tremendously useful source of information.”
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