Today I had the honor of spending some time with the students who work for the Office of Admissions. These are the folks who are on the front lines of communicating Oberlin to prospective students in person, and we gathered to talk about the recent events on campus from that perspective.
A question was asked: "do you think Oberlin is a good place for students of color?"
By the time it was my turn to respond, I was an emotional mess. Sorry to anyone who witnessed it; no doubt I was pretty inarticulate. My answer just sort of spilled out along with 4 weeks of confusion, frustration, and hope.
I'm going to try to recreate what I said in case it is helpful to anyone. Please know that I know that I am writing through a lens of privilege and in no way am I claiming to understand how anyone feels other than me.
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To the student body:
Administrations come and go. Staff come and go. The only constant, the only real permanence, is you, the students. The decades and faces change, sure. But there is a thread that runs among you throughout generations, a common sense of purpose. Obies can't always define or even describe it, but each knows it from within and can recognize it in others.
A college is ultimately defined not by its course catalog or its buildings, but by its people. In the end, the people are all that matter. The people make the education count, make it three-dimensional, make it mean something.
You are Oberlin's people. Prospies choose Oberlin for its exceptional faculty and program, to be sure, but foremost they are choosing you.
Your campus has been attacked repeatedly by forces internal and external. I'm not talking just about recent events, I am talking about decades of history. Oberlin's milestones ALL followed struggle, even if the retellings of our history often downplay those chapters. But you never gave up. Not then, and not now. This is who you are and thus this is Oberlin's identity.
And so it was that here, in these moments, exhausted and wounded from the prior weeks' unfoldings, you refused to be idle. Rather, you were extraordinary. You knew in the first minutes of Monday morning that you would not sleep. You knew how Monday had begun and therefore how Monday had to end, and you pushed the administration to align with that. ***
No one who experienced Monday afternoon will ever forget it. From the teach-in, to the rally, to the convocation. These were not pleasant, they were not a cause for celebration. They were not a climax. They were a beginning. And around the edges of this beginning I saw hope, for the first time in weeks. In the darkest hour, you created that - the intersection of hope and education - as you have for 180 years.
So to answer the question, do I think Oberlin is a good place for students of color?
This place can be far from perfect and sometimes really painful. What makes it not just a good place but the best place (at least in my opinion) - for students of color and all students - is YOU, the people who have never stopped trying and who will never stop trying to create the perfect place the founders believed (and we still believe) might someday be possible.
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***I know that the genesis of Monday's program was largely the work of students and I take full responsibility for any college communications that misrepresented this. The last two days have been whirlwind and sleep-deprived; I wasn't paying enough attention, and I deeply regret this. I will work to make sure it is not repeated.