sure what to expect, I returned to Oberlin in November for
an alumni librarians' conference. It was my first time back
since graduating in 1975. As I walked around campus, read
posters at Wilder, and dropped in at Tank, I felt generally
relieved. By and large, Oberlin seemed not to have changed
too much. There is still a focus on matters intellectual and
artistic, and seemingly a strong interest in various social
justice issues. There are, however, far too many cars! So
much for environmental awareness.
two specific situations darkened the overall brightness of
my impressions. As briefly noted in the Winter '99 issue,
the Co-op Bookstore suddenly closed. This had taken place
just a few days before my visit, and it was still common to
see students approach the door, read the notice, and walk
away frowning. The local yellow pages list two small specialty
bookstores. Surely, in a college town that now supports a
significant number of thriving cafés and crowded restaurants,
a few more bookstores could exist?
well, a more serious and unpleasant incident took place in
November. A student in her dorm room was injured in a stabbing.
This occurred despite around-the-clock locked residences.
A local male had been taken in for this crime between members
of predictable and opposing race, gender, and socio-economic
class; I imagine the decades-old tension between "townies"
and Oberlin students was not decreased.
all is not well. During my years at Oberlin, I volunteered
at a Headstart program and had a part-time job, and had student
friends who tutored at a local school. I hope these types
of initiatives are still being taken by today's students.
Those busy, hip, not inexpensive cafés I saw seemed
extremely empty of locals. Our Oberlin ideals don't mean much
if we, the privileged, don't act on them. Start when you're
a student, and make it part of your life.
Bongiorno epitomized the richness of the Oberlin learning
experience. In my senior year he was my literature teacher.
My first essay was returned with a poor grade and a request
to come to his office. With some hesitation I went to see
him. He looked at me and asked how I could have become a senior
at Oberlin and be so deficient in my writing ability. He offered
to work with me. I accepted the offer. As noted by David Young
in his Memorial Minute, relative to Bongiorno's editorial
acumen, "...his formidable training and his command of the
classical tradition made him not only a stimulating teacher
and colleague, but a sought-after reader of manuscripts, one
who could be counted on, when he had time to go over a book
or an article in draft (and I should add, a student's essay)
for one of his many friends and associates, to detect inconsistencies,
illogicalities, and solecisms, not to mention just plain fuzzy
writing, all pointed out with a gentle firmness that was bracing
and unforgettable to experience."
I look back over 40 years it was an unforgettable experience.
It is because of stimulating teacher-scholars like Andrew
Bongiorno that Oberlin remains one of this nation's leading
institutions of higher learning. It is because of Andrew
Bongiorno and others like him who had a profound influence
on my education, that I continue to support Oberlin.
University of Memphis