In the past few days it’s become harder and harder to remain unconscious of the injustice happening at Oberlin College.
Racism, heterosexism, transphobia and many other systems of oppression have recently reared their ugly heads at Oberlin. White supremacist propaganda, fliers and graffiti have surfaced over the last few weeks on top of threats of physical violence and aggressive actions towards marginalized communities. On Monday, someone donned a Klu Klux Klan robe and roamed Oberlin’s campus, causing the administration to cancel classes and encourage students to attend a number of multicultural solidarity events.
Cancelling classes, though, has been neither a resolution nor a solution by any means. In fact, according to Ambre Dromgoole, a sophomore at Oberlin, it was students who advocated for that action—the administration was resistant and remains resistant to efforts against the oppressive violence. Oberlin senior Alex Howard said students were ready to blockade academic buildings when administrators made the final decision. Dromgoole said students and faculty, most of them people of color, organized all the events that replaced classes; the administration played no part in the programming.
The vandalism has made national news, but Dromgoole said media coverage has entirely ignored the physical violence that has occurred. According to a Facebook post by Devan Bass, one woman was chased into her dorm room by bigots in a van; another emerged from her dorm to find “KKK” carved into her bicycle. Many others continue to be chased, stalked and intimidated, particularly around Oberlin’s Afrikan Heritage House.
Reading the blog’s account of how white, male, heterosexual, cisgender Christian privilege has manifested itself at Oberlin and how students are responding both frightens and encourages me. The former is a stark reminder of how these systems of oppression are so real for so many people, how they threaten their victims’ physical, mental and emotional well-being, and how people in power are so often ignorant of and apathetic to this violence. The latter speaks to how brave and powerful the student voice can be, despite how pervasive the violence has been.
Ohio Wesleyan is much akin to Oberlin—we’re both liberal arts institutions in small Ohio towns, we’re both members of the famous Ohio Five and we both have insular and active bubbles of progressivism on our campuses. It is our responsibility to raise our collective student voice and speak out in solidarity with Oberlin against the injustice our friends face there.
Oberlin Microaggressions (obiemicroaggressions.tumblr.com) has done an impeccable job of documenting these disgusting events. Read to stay aware and updated. Sign the solidarity banner outside the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs in rooms 205 of the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center; it will be sent to Oberlin’s Dean of Students. Let Oberlin students know OWU stands with them on every possible avenue.
Remember this is not a problem unique to Oberlin. These kinds of incidents happen every day on college campuses—and outside them—across the country. They have happened here at OWU and in Delaware. Racism, sexism and other disgusting, insidious forms of oppression are ingrained in all our institutions, thoughts and interactions. It is our responsibility to remain aware of them on our campus community and in ourselves.
It is abhorrent that Sisters United had to keep its incredibly powerful Black History Month demonstration two weeks ago a secret so people couldn’t avoid it, instead of it being openly encouraged and well-attended. It is abhorrent that Black Men of the Future’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day programs were not given the respect they deserved. It is abhorrent that a project last semester aiming to raise awareness about the harm of costumes depicting Native people was met with more vocal public backlash than public support.
These problems won’t go away by ignoring them. If anything is to be learned from the events that have unfolded at Oberlin in the past weeks, it is that we must pay attention to how privilege and oppression manifest themselves at OWU and elsewhere. It is our responsibility to work to end them in order to create a truly safe and inclusive environment for everyone.