I loved the cover of the Fall OAM (and the content too, of course). It occurred to me that it would make a fantastic poster. I would certainly purchase a couple. Great job, as always.
Kelli Gilbert ’87
Editor’s note: Readers interested in purchasing a poster of the Fall 2004 cover should drop us a line. Cost will be determined by the quantity we order.
Praising the Obie Vote
On November 2, I was driving west on Interstate 80, returning home to Oakland, California, after helping to “get out the vote” in Reno, Nevada. My friends and I were listening intently to NPR for news on swing states when suddenly a reporter in Cleveland mentioned the immense lines and the dedication of Oberlin students waiting hours to vote. Just hearing “Oberlin” on the radio gave me hope and brought a smile to my face. My friends have never said anything to me, but I know they think my passion for voting is a little odd. I cry every time I see a documentary about the Freedom Riders or the fight for the 19th Amendment, and I hold a voting party before every election to make sure friends and family know the measures and candidates. So it thrilled me to read in the Fall issue about the work of Oberlin students and alums who are continuing our grand tradition of trying to make the world a better place for everyone by increasing voter participation. To everyone, wherever they fall politically, I say keep up the good work!
I spent election day at First Church, the location where many students vote. I was there when the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. until the casting of the last ballot at 10 p.m., serving as a poll challenger for the Democratic Party. There were often more than 300 people in line, and some of them had to wait five hours or more to vote. Most of these were Oberlin students, and they deserve the highest commendation. They were determined to exercise their right to vote. Although they may have come as individuals, they became an improvised community as they waited. They played music, they talked, they played cards. They got to know people they hadn’t known before. They shared information. People went out and bought food to share. One student I know who normally has a hard time getting out of bed at 10 a.m. was at the poll just after it opened at 6:30; she wasn’t the only one. As saddened as I am at the election outcome, I take heart from
the commitment, savvy, and generosity of Oberlin students.
Longman Professor of English
Much has been made by the pundits about how moral issues swayed the outcome of the November election. Nowhere could this be truer than in Oberlin, Ohio. Near poll closing time, I saw hundreds in line at our library and at First Church. Here were people with a deep sense of duty to our country. Here were people acting on their conviction, despite the inconvenience. Here were the selfless acts—hot drinks, food, music, lent umbrellas—of a committed citizenry. In the collective decision to celebrate rather than complain, here was evidenced faith in each other and reverence for our democracy. God, I love our town. You have restored my faith.
Chair, Oberlin City Council
Lifetime of Citizenship
The Fall issue told me that a distinguished Nigerian educator, Dr. Essien ’55, a teacher and administrator at several American and African universities, had died. I came to Oberlin at the end of WWII largely because of its lack of fraternities and reputation for assistance to people of color. My first wife, and two of my children and their spouses, are also Oberlin grads, and my first academic job was as dean of men in 1951. Essien came to my office as one of 10 children of a Nigerian chief, a freshman needing a board job. I assigned him to pots and pans at a small house on campus, but the housemother came to me a short time later saying that he was too young (age 25), too immature, and finally saying, “You can send a Negro, but don’t send me any Africans; find him another job.” I was not supported by the administration, so I got him another job, but the housemother’s entire kitchen and dining room staff resigned in protest of her actions. I was proud of them. About 10 years later, I was a professor at the University of Chicago, and by accident, I bumped into Dr. Timothy Essien, now a Harvard professor. He was no longer immature. I never heard from him again, but I am delighted to read of his lifetime of contributions to academia and to worldwide citizenship, and I am proud that his Oberlin colleagues stood by him when he was a freshman, black, and a foreigner. Then as now, Oberlin was sometimes far from perfect, but it was making an effort and moving forward. Once, while walking away from a frustrating Oberlin faculty meeting, a philosophy professor friend, Paul Schmidt, said, “Gordon, I think that Oberlin is in its dying conservative stage.” I asked why, then, he was still here. He replied, “I think there is more hope here than anywhere else.” Keep the faith.
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