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Campus Multiculturalism Workshop Unites First-Year Students Committed to Social-Justice Issues
Betty Gabrielli

Over Labor Day weekend, 40 first-year students came together for a unique, two-day workshop designed to integrate them into the College's culturally, economically, geographically, and racially diverse community. The event—the first of its kind at the College—was presented by the Oberlin College Dialogue Center (OCDC), a conflict-resolution program on campus that employs the social-justice model in its work.

"The workshop explored multicultural issues both at Oberlin and in the larger society," says Yeworkwha Belachew, Oberlin ombudsperson and OCDC coordinator. "We also hoped it would encourage the informed activism that is so characteristic of Oberlin."

Sparked by OCDC student co-mediators who saw an intensive program as a viable way of introducing new students to social activism at Oberlin, the workshop brought internationally recognized conflict-resolution experts Leah Wing '84 and Deepika Marya to campus to lead the program, which was funded by Oberlin alumna Jean Barker '57 and the Office of the President.

"The workshop provided an opportunity for new students who share an interest and commitment to social justice to form connections, exchange views, and explore social-justice concepts through theory and interactive activities," says Wing. "It also was designed to utilize the skills and talents of OCDC members and Bonner Scholars, who helped facilitate small group discussions during the weekend."

Using the lenses of classism, hetero-sexism, racism, sexism, and transgender oppression, Wing and Marya took the participants through role-playing exercises and discussions that delved into the issues of differences and commonalities as they existed in the group and on college campuses nationwide.

When the participants came up for air at the workshop's conclusion, the consensus was that it had been an incredible learning experience.

"It really demonstrated a lot of privileges that are reserved for dominant groups in our society, many of which I belong to," says Eric Wilhelm. "The workshop helped me pick up on the many unequal opportunities I take for granted."

Jheri Stewart agrees: "I realized I have been very unaware of the world around me. The activities raised my awareness of social-justice issues in general and increased my desire to help combat them."

Though Lauren Shuler came to campus with a relatively strong background in social-justice work, she says, "The experience did show me how I can more easily become involved at Oberlin. I also found it very effective in teaching me about the pros and cons in terms of social justice. I feel better equipped to be both a support and catalyst for change here."

Regardless of the form their activism may take, participants were delighted with the opportunity to meet classmates with similar interests and would probably affirm, as one member of the group said, "It was great to be with people who care so much and who also are smart and informed, which was what I was hoping to find at Oberlin."

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