<< Front page Commentary May 14, 2004

Walking around arch solves nothing

To the Editors:

Oberlin College commencement is weeks away and for the senior class their undergraduate experience has few remaining days. The class of 2004 is concerned with one and only one issue. Graduate school? Senior thesis? Job? Incorrect!

Seniors are entirely consumed with whether to march through or around Oberlin College’s arch. The arch was made in commemoration of those Oberlin alums lost to China’s Boxer Rebellion. Every year many Oberlin College graduates march around the arch.

Their rationale lies primarily in the fact that the arch supports cultural imperialism and is representative of the College’s ethnocentricity and institutionalized racism. The realm of this essay does not serve to trivialize such opinions, as I would imagine that the allegations are true. However, this piece will argue that walking through the arch (and not around) is by far more revolutionary.

Ladies and gentleman, Oberlin College is a business. Yes, I said it, a business. And not the mom-and-pop dime store like our beloved Gibson’s or Ben Franklin’s. On the scale of independent to corporate our college lies much, much closer to Wal-Mart. I know it’s sad, but also very true. All of you who came here expecting a radical utopia are surely by now disappointed. But come on now, you must not be that surprised. A place that costs your parents almost 40,000 U.S. dollars a year is the polar opposite of a communal utopia.

Oberlin College, like any other business, has a product to sell: the undergraduate experience. But with thousands of colleges and universities throughout the country to choose from, how does Oberlin College compete in the market? By differentiating its product of course!

Anyone who has taken “Introduction to the Political Economy” knows that in order to remove a product from a competitive market a firm must make it so their product is distinctly different. Doing so allows the firm to have more control of the product, including its price i.e. tuition. So the Oberlin College marketing team has gone to infinite ends to create an image unique to Oberlin. And you and I as part of the Oberlin College student body should know it better than anyone else because of falling prey to the school’s advertising strategies.

Oberlin College presents itself as a haven of radical thought and activism; a place different than those other U.S. News and World Report top liberal arts schools such as Middlebury, Carleton and Pomona. But with co-ops being bought out by the College, the presence of a pro-life community and the lack of tenured professors of color, how can you call this place radical?

I argue then that walking around the arch further promotes Oberlin College’s false image. The administration loves it that you walk around the arch as it makes you a walking advert for its false-product.

So my advice to you seniors is to walk and walk straight through the arch. If I learned anything here at Oberlin, it is that politics and history are complicated issues. The idea then that one’s beliefs can be represented by a simple choice of going around or through a statue is overly-simplistic and incorrect.

–Alex Sirkin
College senior


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