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
"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
"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."