Michael Barthel '01
AT ITS 25TH REUNION IN 1990,
members of the Class of 1965 staged a protest march to the home
of then-president Fred Starr to demonstrate their support for
issues that students had protested a few weeks earlier. Though
angry about College policies of the day, the alumni were nevertheless
delighted that students were still concerned and motivated to
promote change, said professor of politics Marc Blecher.
was this heritage that prompted the Class of 1965 to co-sponsor
a three-day conference entitled "Activism in the Oberlin Tradition"
in October. The event mimicked a similar conference in 1994 and
suggested to students ways to incorporate activism into their
lights are shining more brightly than they have in years," said
Alan Dawley '65 at the opening session,
expressing hope for the current renewal of activism. A professor
and historian at the College of New Jersey, Dawley co-organized
the event with classmate and The American Prospect editor
Robert Kuttner '65.
told students that an Oberlin education was invaluable training
for a career as an activist. "Oberlin was a place that inspired
me to embrace critical thinking," he said. "It inspired me to confront
the philosophies that result in injustice. Who would have thought
that a former long-haired radical from Oberlin who took over Cox
every other year would be serving under a Republican governor of
Massachusetts?" he asked, to laughter from the crowd.
Kristine Raab '89,
a research analyst for the Communications Workers of America, spoke
of an unexpected, yet fruitful, path to activism. "It's led me to
jail and it's led me to business school, and on the whole, I greatly
prefer jail. Fortunately, the movement does not call on many of
us to make that particular sacrifice."
The conference continued with small sessions targeting specific
themes such as labor, with participants including Kathy
Olynyk Smith-Hundley '65, a member of the Hard-Hatted Women
group trying to encourage women into nontraditional jobs; sexuality,
featuring Joani Blank '59, founder
of Good Vibrations; gender, which included Phoebe
Jones Schellenberg '76, co-coordinator of the International
Wages for Housework campaign; and law, represented by Eric
Seitz '65, a trial attorney who has defended the Black Panthers
and the Chicago Seven.
discussion on activism in the city of Oberlin had participants wrestling
with the problem of students living off-campus in the depressed
areas around Groveland Street, which bolsters the incomes of landlords
and takes away low-income housing from town residents who need it.
At an earlier session, alumni and students pondered whether Obies
believe in electoral politics in light of the Nader movement, and
how violence affects social change.
morning's plenary session concluded the conference on an informal
note, with Blecher moderating a discussion with Dawley, Kuttner,
and student Katharine Cristiani '01.
"It can be really frustrating to try to figure out what you
are going to do with your life after Oberlin when the traditional
options of grad school or working for a dot-com aren't what you're
into," said Christiani. "This conference (brought) Oberlin
alums here who share my passions and interests." In the end,
no barricades were erected, but the sessions proved that when the
revolution does come, it will be organized.