Thoughts On All This Stuff

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.

* * * * *

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.


* * * * *

***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.

Responses To This Entry:

Ben Jones,

I statements are important. When you say Oberlin is "the best place for students of color" it would be helpful to speak for yourself. Because at the moment Oberlin is for me, as a person of color, the *worst* possible place in the entire world for me to be in right now.
You say that you believe this because it is "YOU", "the people who have never stopped trying" who make it so. Please understand that disproportionately this "you" that you refer to are students of color who must shoulder the burden and stress of fighting this ignorance at the expense of their well being, while facing resistance from their peers and administrators. This resistance is the very reason why we have not gotten anywhere and must "keep trying" for years on end.

So if Oberlin is great for you, that's wonderful, but please do not declare it "the best place" for us without understanding the depth of our struggles being here.

Thanks so much.

Posted by: Student of Color on March 7, 2013 8:48 AM


I understand and agree with you 100%. That's why I wrote "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" at the top of this entry.


Posted by: Ben Jones on March 7, 2013 9:38 AM

Hello Ben Jones,

I don't mean to invalidate the opinions of the other student who has responded on this, but as another student of color on this campus, I could not imagine more supportive of a community for students of color than the one that I have found here. I am not trying to say that it is everyone or even that it is a great majority. But for the small, resilient group that exists, they mean the world to me and they would not be here and I would not be here if not for the legacy that previous students of color have left. Change cannot happen and this climate of activism cannot be fostered if there are no prospective students of color to begin with. I'm not trying to say it'll be easy for them or for even for us who have been here, but it sure will not lead to progress.

So to put it simply: thank you for this message of hope in light of all this darkness.

Posted by: Another Student of Color on March 7, 2013 10:53 AM


Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and for your kind words.


Posted by: Ben Jones on March 7, 2013 11:30 AM

Over the many years of its legacy, Oberlin has stood for students of color, despite the greater world's views: they were the first college to allow African Americans to attend; they participated in the Underground Railroad (yeah, that railroad outside of Talcott? That's what that's about), they developed multi-cultural houses, including programming, that supports students of different backgrounds (I don't know of another college that has done this but perhaps I am wrong) and they have participated in many, many marches on Washington DC over the years to support equal rights for all people. The support to students of color also comes from the strong and vocal alumni of color.

It is true that you can never understand until you walk a mile another person's shoes. And even their shoes are different from the one who looks just like you who is standing next to you. This, in itself, is what Oberlin celebrates and values most about their students, staff, administration, faculty and alums.

I will not claim to know what each person is experiencing on-campus, off-campus, in the administration, etc., but I will note that many, many other alums are hearing echoes of their own experiences at Oberlin from past years. These challenges go on and on. What Oberlin does best is continues to stand up and fight for equality, respect and diversity.

Please consider that, despite these horrible actions that have been occurring, your student body, your college, stood up for you and presented you with a safe environment. Do not take that for granted.

Posted by: Elana Gartner on March 13, 2013 11:44 AM