About the Oak Student Committee:
The Oak Student Committee (OSC) allows Colby undergraduates to become integrally involved in the Institute and its programming. The committee is the primary link between the Fellow and the student body, organizing formal meetings and more casual encounters over meals or through field trips. Even when the Fellow is not present on campus, OSC members help plan and execute Oak events. Through participation on this committee, students gain a better understanding of human rights issues and learn key skills involved in human rights advocacy.
2018-2019 Oak Student Committee:
Amya Bhalla (Co-Chair)
Grace Yu (Co-Chair)
Andres Lovon Roman
Recent Oak Student Committee Projects:
Oak Student Committee’s conversations in the fall were defined by different issues of access. So, for our spring programming we decided to develop a series of events that addressed the complexities of access at Colby and in our broader communities. We’re developing a four event series with the tentative title “Breaking Down Barriers.”
The first event will provide a creative space for the Colby community to visually depict what borders mean to each of them. The second event will be a dinner where Oak-affiliated faculty members and Oak Student Committee members can discuss issues of access both at Colby and around the world. Our keynote speaker will be Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca, who is spearheading their coverage of the Trump administration.
In order to hear voices from as many parts of our community as possible, our final event will be a Listen-In prompted by the question “what keeps Colby from being accessible to you?” The event will be in the narrative style with the hopes that people will walk away with a better understanding of the obstacles that exist for making Colby feel like a home for all of its members. We will encourage those in attendance to lean into the discomfort that surrounds issues of access on Colby’s campus. After we listen to the narratives, we will have small group dialogues so that we can turn that discomfort into action. People will have the choice to submit their narratives anonymously or to read them themselves, but Oak will screen them before the event to make sure that all names are omitted from stories.
It’s our hope that through these series of events, we will tackle the issue of access from multiple perspectives, giving everyone the space to share what access means to them.
In the Fall, Elizabeth Bryan ’17 and Sarah Peck ’17 helped the Oak Student Committee connect with our Oak Fellow, Khalid Albaih. Through casual lunch conversations, a trip to the Common Ground Fair, and programming, the Student Committee was able to get to know Khalid, his family, and his important work. In addition to Khalid’s introduction to Colby, we helped facilitate the impactful Guatemalan performance artist and poet Regina Jose Galindo’s visit to Colby. She presented her past performance pieces and contextualized them within the history of violence in Guatemala. Galindo partnered with Colby professor Adrian Blevins for a poetry reading. With the help of Khalid, the Oak Institute’s “Human Rights in a Global Perspective” class was able to curate an exhibit in the Colby library consisting of political cartoons we had made; the works were shared alongside some of Albaih’s most well-known cartoons. For our final event in our fall programming series, the Oak Institute brought Bangor Daily News cartoonist George Danby to campus to serve on a panel alongside Albaih on how political cartoonists depict a violent world. The Colby community greatly benefitted from a busy semester with Khalid Albaih, who allowed us to ask questions about how we can use art to more critically engage with the world we live in.
For Spring 2016, the Oak Student Committee decided to continue its efforts to highlight the fact that human rights abuses occur at home as well as abroad. We decided to focus our activism and programming on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. To this end, we organized a series of events called “Reclaim Sex.” The four part series focused on different aspects of what consent does and doesn’t look like on our campus. The events included a dialogue about positive consent, an arts-based discussion about what “reclaiming sex” means to members of the campus community, and a “Listen In” at which members of the community, especially administrators, had an opportunity to hear painful narratives from students who had experienced violence, including sexual assault, and then struggled to secure justice for themselves and other victims. The series culminated in a keynote address given by Ben Bradlee, Jr. ’70, who was instrumental in the Boston Globe investigation of sexual abuse in Boston’s Catholic churches that inspired the Academy Award winning film, Spotlight. These events sparked dialogue and calls for change on our campus that will hopefully continue into the future.
Led by co-chairs Anognya Parthasarathy ’16 and Sarah Peck ’17, the Student Committee consisted of 14 members. By maintaining a small group, we were able to engage in extensive dialogue about important human rights violations taking place around the world, in the U.S., and at Colby. In the fall, the Student Committee created a number of opportunities for the campus community to meet and interact with our Oak Fellow, Jodi Koberinski. We also worked closely with other groups on campus, including The Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Pugh Center, the Feminist Alliance and the Environmental Studies Program to host a wonderful mix of events. These included Jodi’s lecture on the link between food and human rights; a presentation by Will Allen, the founder of Milwaukee-based “Growing Power“ and the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, on the ways in which urban farming can sustain strong local communities; a talk by Gloria Otieno of Bioversity International on the fight for food sovereignty in east Africa; and a dinner with Maine organic farmers where we celebrated their work by eating food they had produced and that Colby students had prepared. On a creative note, the Oak Institute spent a week with Anna Sapershteyn, a Toronto-based artist-activist, building giant puppets to highlight human rights issues. Finally, the Student Committee held an organic trail mix-making event with our Oak Fellow to discover the roots and routes our food takes. It was a busy, fun and energizing semester.
In the spring, the Oak Student Committee continued their work despite the absence of the Oak Fellow. Their most ambitious program included inviting “Darkmatter,” a New York-based, South Asian transgender art and activist collaboration comprised of Janani Balasubramanian and Alok Vaid-Menon. Using poetry & polemic, tweet & tirade, the duo is committed to an art practice of gender self(ie) determination, racial justice, and movement building. The Oak Student Committee hosted the event, and garnered support from a number of campus organizations. The Dark Matter performance, in particular, was highly successful in that it attracted a big audience and generated visibility for Oak. But it also provoked strong, often emotional reactions from some members of the audience due to its controversial content and edgy presentation. Oak student leaders, as well as Director Hatch, quickly realized that a debriefing was necessary, and one was held within days of the event.