Oberlin Stories Needed

We're about to launch the all-new Oberlin.edu - hopefully sometime over fall break. As you may have heard, the focus of the new homepage will be first-person narratives written by current students, faculty, staff, and alums. We are trying to celebrate Oberlin through the stories of its people and help the world to better understand the value of an Oberlin education - what it means to be part of this culture and community. (This means that we are not looking for negative stories, sorry.)

Each time a user visits, the homepage will randomly load nine different stories from the story repository (we hope to have a total of 1000+ within a year). It will look (basically) like this:

Mouseover any of the nine thumbnails in the left panel and the center and right panels will populate with the relevant story. Clicking through will bring you to the full version of the story, and also allow you to explore all the narratives on stories.oberlin.edu.

In acknowledgement of the response to my last entry, we are no longer asking the community to help define Fearless through these stories, as was the original idea. Many of you wrote to me and said "I love your idea to define Oberlin through its stories, but if you're going to use our stories to justify something that makes us so uncomfortable, then count us out." Fair enough. I do think that the idea could have worked had it happened two years ago, but it seems that my idea offered too little too late.

So the new homepage will say, simply, "We are Oberlin. These are our stories."

Please take a look at the stories we've collected thus far - they will give you a sense of what we're looking for. My colleague Lillie has drafted some guidelines:

  • Please make it specific. Don't just write a list of all the activities/adventures/events you've ever been involved with. Pick one and write about why it matters. Readers won't connect with stories that are too general.
  • Have a point. What did your activity / student group / team / honors project / class / performance art / etc do to change you or the world or both? How does it relate to Oberlin?
  • Include a relevant photo. (Otherwise we won't be able to include your story on the homepage.)

Please send submissions and/or questions to stories at oberlin dot edu.

Many thanks for being part of the Oberlin Stories project. Once we publish a critical mass of stories, this view into the spectrum of Oberlin will be unparalleled. But we can't do it without you.

Responses To This Entry:

Hi Ben --

I've only just been introduced to this blog in the last half an hour, but I've been reading over the couple of "charged" entries (especially the one you refer to in this post) and their comments. And there are just a few things I wanted to say in response to various things.

First off, I would like to thank you for the active interest you are taking in seeking students' opinions and reworking your goals to reflect them. And, based solely on your posts' comments, you're not getting much credit for it -- which certainly makes sense, as it is only the most incensed, in general, who are motivated to respond. So I wanted at least to be one voice (I'm sure of many) actually expressing that you are in fact doing a pretty good job of things so far.

Secondly, I wanted to express my -- er, relief? support? euphoria? -- that you have decided not to include "Fearless" as a defining element of the stories page. I think that limiting submissions to defining fearless -- apart from the feelings of nausea and rage it evokes in many of us -- also leaves out a large spectrum of potential Oberlin stories. I intend to submit something pretty soon, and it really helps not to be encumbered by this looming marketing concept in trying to formulate the best picture of Oberlin that I can.

Thirdly, I wanted to mention that, though I understand your point, I am not entirely in agreement with your concern about students' disquiet over Fearless detracting from prospies' impressions of Oberlin. I, for one, was all the more attracted to Oberlin by the idea that the College implemented a new marketing campaign and the student body exploded in protest, in often highly amusing ways. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nfx9I7cKgu0 if any proof is required.) If admittedly a bit trite (there've got to be bigger and better issues we could be focusing all of this anger of ours on), I found the student body's outrageous reaction to Fearless to be yet another endearing aspect of Oberlin. Perhaps you could go so far as to say that while the campaign (I think it's safe to say) backfired, the student body's reaction is, in a way, a campaign of its own, with just as good, if admittedly different, message: "we are oberlin. vociferously rejecting any attempt to be defined"

One final point -- I was very disappointed to see that the url beyondfearless.com is password-protected. I'm immensely curious.

Posted by: Malingo on October 17, 2008 5:51 PM

I love Malingo's point: Come to Oberlin because the students here are intelligent enough to reject its attempted rebranding and the administration is smart enough to realize their error.

If only [the consultant] and the Board of Trustees had honestly considered and answered students' legitimate questions back when Fearless was first announced: we might have initially developed a much stronger campaign to win prospective students.

Ben is Chucking genius.

Posted by: Colin on October 25, 2008 12:08 AM

Colin, I've removed the consultant's name from your comment because I don't want Google searches pointing people here unfairly.

Having worked as a consultant for three years prior to my four years at MIT, I have a decent amount of perspective on this topic, and I really think a lot of the anger towards him is misplaced. It's not the consultant's responsibility to manage the expectations of the community. That's my responsibility as VP for Communications. The consultant is hired to be an advisor - someone who collects information and makes recommendations. What happens with those recommendations (and how they are presented to the community) is then decided by the client. It's not fair to force the consultant into that role (although apparently that's what has happened here).

Hopefully it's clear that communicating with students et al is a foremost priority of mine. But as I said in an earlier post, what's done is done. We need to look to the future, not get hung up in the past.

Posted by: Ben on October 25, 2008 9:27 AM