Clarifications about MENA, other letters
To the Editors:
I very much appreciated the commentary published in the March 17, 2006 issue of the Review about a lack of institutional commitment to MENA studies. I write to correct a couple of factual errors and make some comments of my own.
First, I am on sabbatical research leave in the 2006-2007 academic year (partly remunerated by the institution) and at present am scheduled to return to Oberlin in fall 2007. Second, Mr. Medani accepted a one-year postdoctoral research position at Stanford University for this academic year and expects to begin his tenure-track faculty position at McGill University (in Montreal) in fall 2006.
With respect to Professor Yedes, I would like to say that first, he deserves his leave; second, he has been teaching Arabic because of his own generosity in response to strong student demand in a situation of spotty institutional commitment, above and beyond his obligations as a member of the faculty in French and Francophone studies; third, teaching French and Maghrebian Francophone literatures is, in fact, part of Middle East and North Africa Studies, and would be important whether or not Mr. Yedes also taught Arabic. There are other languages related to MENA, the major ones being Farsi, Ottoman Turkish, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew and many indigenous African languages, including variants of the Tamazight language.
To note an absence: While it is true that it is a problem to confound Islamic studies with MENA studies and more Muslims live outside of the Middle East and North Africa than within this region, Professor Anna Gade’s training and teaching on Islam are crucial to a well-developed MENA major. This needs to be recognized without underestimating that her area expertise is on Southeast Asia. Her contributions and value need to be addressed in less zero sum terms vis-a-vis a MENA major. Indeed, as it currently stands, it is Professor Gade and I who shepherd students through independent studies in MENA, working within the limits of the courses the institution offers and encouraging them to take additional courses and enhance their study of the languages of the region by going abroad, if this is at all possible. I do not know if Prof. Gade will be on leave all or part of next year. If she is on campus and you are interested in MENA, take courses on Islam with her.
An important faculty returnee who was on sabbatical this year is Prof. Ben Schiff in the Politics Department. I am not sure if he plans to teach a Middle East-related politics course next year. If so, then students interested in MENA should take it.
In terms of the March 14 dinner at Stevenson, I thought it was initiated by MESA, the Middle East Students Association, partly to celebrate the ancient Persian New Year, Nowruz. The College should always try to support such events, in my opinion, as part of its educational mission. I should hope we are smarter than to confuse support for the Stevenson dinner as substantive support for MENA studies. I thought MESA students and the cook staff in Stevenson did most of the actual work.
The commodification and fetishization of cultures exists on a continuum. I disagree that we should only eat foods we are familiar with — that has its own cultural-racial implications and assumes that “other” people’s foods (presumably unlike “ours”) do not change, borrow and respond to contextual factors such as migrations, class composition, historical developments, available resources, etc. At the same time, I agree we should attempt not to be oblivious to the politics and economics of food production and consumption. In the context of Iran, the U.S. government is actively gearing up for another war, and it will be about oil, capitalism and U.S. hegemony, not food, nuclear weapons or democracy.
I agree that it tells something quite important about Oberlin that so few Arab Americans or students from Arab MENA study here (again, I want to stress that MENA does not only mean Arab). It seems quite clear that the college’s strategic plan will reduce the economic and ethnic-racial composition of the student body rather than diversify it further and Arab American students (who largely come from Christian rather than Muslim backgrounds) are part of that mix.
I also want to agree that MENA studies is crucial to the overall curriculum and will be impossible without a significant commitment to faculty by replacing the only full-time “MENA” social science interdisciplinary position left vacant with Mr. Medani’s leavetaking; systematically supporting Arabic language training at Oberlin, abroad, or in high-quality study away programs such as those offered by Middlebury and Title VI National Resource Centers in the U.S.; and supporting with more than words Oberlin faculty currently delivering MENA studies.
–Frances S. Hasso
To The Editors:
I noted with interest the recent visit paid to the college by Michelle Malkin OC ’92 who has frustrated and intrigued me since I learned of her existence. As the founder of the Filipino American Student Association at Oberlin, I’ve found it to be a cruel twist of fate that our school’s most famous Filipina alumna happens to share the same basic ideological DNA as Rush Limbaugh and Robert Bork. But it doesn’t surprise me.
Malkin’s present-day political views were forged right here in Oberlin, according to the Asian American online publication Goldsea. It was at Oberlin that Malkin encountered the pressure to conform to the common ideals shared by political students of color: e.g. a commitment to affirmative action.
Recalled Malkin, “Even if you tread very lightly on political sacred cows, there was a huge negative response, especially from somebody who was a minority, standing up and saying, ‘Well, all these self-appointed minority groups on campus don’t speak for me.’ It was seeing the violent paroxysms it caused on the Left that really put me on my way to a career in opinion journalism.”
I was active in the POC community during my time at Oberlin and trust me; I know what the pressure to follow orthodoxy feels like. Entwined with that pressure is a temptation: the temptation to reject the social justice tenets of race entirely and therefore stand out from the crowd. A conservative POC — wow, how original and therefore cool! You’re totally a maverick! Malkin’s not the first person of color to cash in by voicing a rightist outlook — it happens all the time. But the extent of her success in doing so is remarkable.
I’m not going to call Malkin a sellout, although here is a good place to bring up the debt owed (and under-acknowledged) by many racial minorities, A/PIs included, to the black American civil rights movement. I do think that her observations of race hypocrisy among Democrats can be useful to the Left as it pushes for right and true leadership. And finally, I’m amused by uncritical white liberals who call Malkin a race traitor because of her defense of internment of the Japanese, as if World War II never occurred and the peoples of Asia all coexist in a Weia Teia-like harmony.
Let me be clear — in no way do I consider Malkin’s opinions on internment defensible! I do suggest that present-day intra-Asian social tensions, as well as their historical roots, are a worthy subject of study and might even serve as a shared avenue of exploration by Oberlin’s East Asian and comparative American studies departments. At the very least, Oberlin’s APA community should acknowledge that these tensions exist, which would be a step up from when I attended.
In any case, the explosive popularity of Malkin’s opinions (which I will address in a future letter) needs to prompt reflection among the POC community and Oberlin College in general. One Michelle Malkin is embarrassing enough to Oberlin.
How can we prevent the creation of more like her?
–Art Bueno OC’04
P.S. I also want to express how proud I am of the sophisticated students who passed out flyers discouraging civil disobedience during Malkin’s talk and of the students in attendance who went along with that strategy. Way to play the game. To the person who came up with that idea — all your drinks at the Feve are on me next time I come to campus. And if that person is APA — you’ll get top shelf liquor.
To the Editors:
“I’m a real cunt in spring” says Liz Phair in her song “Explain It To Me.” If that’s the case, no one should tell her how the college plans to repossess her historic home at 148 S. Professor Street and hand it over to an exclusive group of bourgeois gourmands, the newly founded “Culinary House,” led by Nathan Leamy.
In private meetings, ResEd told a group of eager, future members of Liz Phair House who were denied the possibility of living there, that they want to “reclaim” the house because it is “out of control.”
What we ask is out of control about sailing against the wind to cultivate a convivial space that students can relish in on weekends? What is out of control about tasteful decor and campus-wide sousings, open to all and enjoyed moist?
Few realize that Liz Phair House is already a program house. Its program is one devoted to Friendship, not cooking. One devoted to a freedom from maintaining any notion of traditional household chores; not a five-hour-a-week obligation. One that is devoted to sharing our space a few times a year so the abundant wealth of our land can be enjoyed by everyone on campus; not consigning the masses to their impoverished co-ops and pricey meal plans so a few can raid college funds to suckle tender lamb.
In a letter in the last issue of the Review, Marisol LeBron said, “no one has the right to say what is or isn’t art.” In the same spirit, no one has the right to say what is a good program house and what is not even a program house at all — not even the statist phallocrats at ResEd.
Therefore, we ask Mr. Leamy to rile his compatriots together and fight for the house on fair terms, not terms that look good for college admissions, giving our brochures the chance to boast of our “Culinary House.”
Not terms that help the college bolster Dye’s already bloated coffers, but terms based on the efficient system we all suffer through that begins with lottery numbers and ends with squaring one’s chosen lifestyle to the residency one ends up in come Fall.
Liz Phair house has a storied history on this campus, from the days when Liz Phair felt her first pangs of love and heartbreak, to the days when TIMARA students used it for deviant sexual practices, to the present where it is used for decent sexual practices that can be enjoyed by anybody and are favored by all. It would be a shame to see such a heritage get cashed in by a group of students consorting with the goons on the first floor of Stevenson, all to benefit the fatcats in Cox.
Godspeed, Mr. Leamy, we wish you the best. While you gorge on
étouffée, the rest of this campus will starve for the nourishment
of the occasional bonne fête.
To the Editors:
I am writing in response to the article in the March 17 Review on the Student Honor Committee (SHC). While this article discusses certain “shortcomings” in the system, such as student members’ lack of free time, it fails to address several issues that seem to me to be serious problems with the system.
First of all, the article states that students accused of violating the Honor Code are “assumed innocent until proven guilty.” While this is strictly true, the standard of proof required is worth remarking on.
According to the Students’ Rights and Responsibilities section of the Student Handbook (available online), “the Standard of Proof that shall be applied is Preponderance of Evidence.” To draw an analogy with the legal system, preponderance of evidence is the “proof” required in civil suits, while criminal cases require a more stringent standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
While Oberlin’s sanctions against students who violate academic integrity guidelines may indeed be far more lenient than those of many other schools, the fact remains that the sanctions may include suspension or expulsion. Suspension or expulsion from college can be a devastating event in a person’s life, especially if that person did not, in fact, commit any action to warrant it. Considering the potential severity of the penalties imposed, therefore, it seems to me that the SHC should require a higher standard of proof, perhaps even proof beyond reasonable doubt, to find accused violators responsible.
Also disturbing is the definition of exactly what constitutes plagiarism. All of us, I suspect, can agree that the deliberate quoting or paraphrasing of another’s work without any attribution is clearly plagiaristic. However, according to the Student Handbook, plagiarism may be committed “inadvertently,” and may even be committed by “failure to correctly identify the source.” Taken to an extreme, this means that a mistake made in the formatting of a citation, even if the source is clearly acknowledged, may be grounds for a charge of Honor Code violation. While this sort of incorrect citation is surely grounds for a professor to dock a couple of points on one’s assignment, it hardly seems reasonable to consider it a disciplinary infraction.
Finally, the Handbook notes that “all students must... inform the SHC or the professor if they have knowledge of or have observed an infraction of the Honor Code.” While this responsibility may be difficult in practice to enforce, it nevertheless presents students with knowledge of a minor infraction with the moral quandary of either strictly violating College policy, or exposing a classmate or friend to what may be overly severe penalties. This requirement to inform on one’s fellows strikes me as antithetical to the atmosphere of support and camaraderie that Oberlin fosters so well in other situations.
The Honor Code is surely one of Oberlin’s great strengths and I, for one, feel privileged to attend an institution where students are treated with such trust, respect and confidence. But I think we all ought to recognize that there exist problems within our system, problems which we should work to correct.
To the Editors:
We, the undersigned students and alumni, are writing to express disapproval of the recent recommendation to eliminate a geology faculty position, all in the name of the Strategic Plan. The proposed elimination of the professorship in Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology would cut the number of professors in the department from six to five, and remove an essential component of our curriculum. Of these remaining positions, four would be full time and one part time. This decision will have negative consequences for geology majors and minors, geology professors, all other science departments and students looking to fill their 9-9-9 rule.
The loss of the petrology position will seriously handicap anyone looking to pursue a geology major. “Geology” is a general term — all geologists have a very specialized area of study. All but one of the remaining faculty positions deal with various sedimentary and geomorphological processes, or soft-rock geology. Of the three types of rocks — igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic — the petrology professor is the only one who deals with hard-rock geology, or igneous and metamorphic systems. Without this position, curious students would have no chance to conduct research in, or even discover their passion for, this realm of geology. Undergraduate research experience is essential for continuing into the highly specialized realm of graduate studies in geology.
The elimination has been rationalized with the suggestion that other professors could be trained to teach igneous- and metamorphic-based classes. This proposal insults the professionalism of all faculty members, along with increasing the workload of those remaining and impeding or trivializing their own specialized research. Asking another professor to teach these courses would be similar to asking a flute professor to teach voice majors how to sing. The other option would be not to offer the courses at all. This would be like having a biology department without botanists — a major interested in studying plants would have no options.
With remaining professors taking on additional responsibilities, non-major courses would have to be cut. A large number of Oberlin students take classes in the geology department at some point in their college career and 100-level geology classes are in high demand. Professor Steven Wojtal’s Glaciology course had a seventy-person wait list for an enrollment of seventy people. Positive experiences in these classes often inspire further upper-level coursework in geology, producing unexpected minors and majors. If the position were eliminated, required courses for majors and minors would be offered less often, making matters difficult for students who discover an enthusiasm for geology later in their undergraduate career. The number of majors and minors is continually growing, with enrollment caps frequently raised to meet student demand.
It is worth noting that a large portion of Oberlin-trained geologists goes on
to attain successful professional positions in the field. Alumni have noted the
value of their Oberlin education, often attributing their success in research to
skills and knowledge gained from Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology in
particular. Many graduates attend top-ranked doctoral programs and go on to
teach at other well-known colleges and universities. Of these alumni, Oberlin is
adding a commendable number of women to a science that has always been dominated
by men.Though secluded to the top floors of Carnegie, we encompass a powerful
and respected force of both faculty and students. A tenured petrology position
has long existed, filled with dedicated geologists who have built up an
admirable reputation and an extensive rock and mineral collection from which to
teach. This position is in no way expendable. We ask for your support in this
To the Editors:
As my train sped through Parisian suburbs towards the university city of Montpellier this past weekend, I put on my headsets to listen to my favorite kabuki repertoires and finished reading my latest copy of the Review. Ever since I moved to France last year, I have been living in a crazy microcosm of cultures: bits and pieces of the US, Hungary, Japan and France, countries where I lived before and where I picked up a custom or language along the way. Oberlin has been there with me throughout my journeys.
My international and multicultural experiences were the most special ones at Oberlin. I did those horrendous lab exercises with my fellow classmates from Cleveland, Ghana and Pakistan. I took classes in German, Japanese and Russian and interned at companies with a global flair. Don’t tell the profs, but the “Cuisines of the World” ExCo was the coolest of all classes. I actually spoke more Japanese at Oberlin than when I lived in Tokyo! My classwork and internships allowed me to get jobs at international companies and now I’m living in Paris on a temporary assignment. Linguistic ability and being comfortable in different cultures are highly appealing to nonprofits and companies alike — Oberlin really prepared me for life as a global citizen.
I have one big regret about Oberlin: that I couldn’t take all the classes that I wanted to take (minus the exams, that is). Trust me, you’ll feel the same way eventually even if you’re one of those gifted ones who take ten subjects a semester. So to ease the grief later on, I hope you will take advantage of the many, many multicultural experiences that Oberlin offers. Take a language class. If you find it too much, take international politics or Asian art. Visit an African dance performance and go on Semester at Sea. Remember, the school wants you to participate; scholarships carry over to many programs. Talk to your advisor and Career Services about how you could live up to your global aspirations even when it feels the ridiculous lab assignment is controlling your life. And let me know when you’re in Paris next time!
–Bálint M. Gergely OC ’00
To the Editors:
Recently, we lost two of our greatest American treasures, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King. They dedicated their lives to fighting for racial harmony and equality for every citizen. Their contributions to America have helped to make our country a much better place. Unfortunately, it is clear that the problem of poor race relations at our institutions of higher learning is still a major issue. As a result, there have been calls for more diversity. Despite the countless long-standing diversity programs and increased funding on campuses nationwide, students are still polarized.
Further, the number of Black students entering college is still far too low. Despite all the time, talent and treasure expended on the issue, colleges and universities still deserve an ‘F’ for poor race relations.
Diversity programs and increased funding to study the problem are clearly old ideas. To be sure, these ideas have provided significant improvements. Universities and colleges have strict policies in place to punish any student that disobeys the rules. Unfortunately, problems persist. There are still too many who choose to disobey the rules and commit a racially motivated act upon another student.
And, the same tired answers are used to address the issue of how to improve cooperation between Blacks and Whites. There have been no noticeable efforts to look in a different direction for solutions. Administrators, students and policymakers are not encouraged to seek new and more dynamic answers to the question. Thus, we continue to notice allegations and reports that feed the argument made by a minority of liberal decision-makers, who claim more funding and more “sensitivity” training will solve this dilemma.
Isn’t it time for new voices and new answers to the problems that plague too many of our institutions of higher learning? First, everyone should endeavor to look to positive means for solutions because it is everyone’s responsibility. Student groups across racial lines should work together to spark open debate and communication in an effort to improve their schools. Minority conservatives should also step into the debate and partner with other conservative groups to foster new ideas that do not focus on racial differences but on similarities among the student body. Such a partnership will assist in providing many examples of racial harmony and cooperation.
There have been substantial improvements in race relations throughout the years but it is clear that the “old” approach is no longer working. It is time for decision-makers to adjust to the times and seek new solutions. The formation of strategic alliances to foster debate and open communication among Blacks and Whites would be a significant step in moving from an ‘F’ to an ‘A,’ if the real goal is to improve relations between race and culture.
But, if the hidden goal of the leaders firmly in control of campus politics and policy is to continue racial disharmony so that a victim class can be maintained for political gain, we will be doing a great disservice to the memory of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King.
To the Editors:
The permissive attitude of Oberlin in regard to student drinking and other drug use certainly has its benefits, like a reduction in students jumping out of windows to escape security; however, without adequate support for those who are choosing a different path, this permissive atmosphere can be harmful.
ResEd, in offering the Recovery Housing option, is attempting to address at least this deficit at Oberlin. As a space that is more than just substance free, but actively defined as SOBER living, it will aid students who are either recovering from addiction themselves or are children of alcoholics and addicts themselves. In my own experience, having a space that is both substance free AND recovery oriented greatly helps improve the success rate of recovery and treatment.
While it is undoubtedly clear that alcohol and other drug use impact the campus community and the retention rate (among other metrics), if Oberlin were to adopt a more draconian system, there would be serious negative consequences. By providing a recovery housing space, ResEd is demonstrating some commitment to improving the quality of student life, allowing greater independence (at the same time as they reduce off-campus housing it should be noted) and advancing the dialogue about the role of alcohol and other drugs in the Oberlin community and role they play in the student experience.
Whether or not the recovery housing space gets off the ground for Fall 2006, largely dependent on student interest [students can register now online], this move from only offering substance free to offering truly recovery-oriented housing is a watershed moment in the history of student life and ResEd. For a host of other reasons related to ResEd, OSCA and the college as a whole, this moment in time may also go down in history for less commendable reasons than the opening of recovery housing and the related dialogue.
To the Editors:
I read your article about Admissions’ attitude toward the new SAT. In particular, I noted that Professor Trubeck stated, “To prepare for the test, you have to memorize some highfalutin text.” There is no such requirement for the essay; no text must be put to memory. Has Trubeck taken the new SAT? Does she tutor high school students who are preparing for it? Over the past year I have done both.
There are some simple ways to prepare for this essay, none of which are difficult or arcane. Not everything that’s new is necessarily better, more useful than what came before, so time will tell whether there is a legitimate correlation between the results of the essay and a student’s general writing ability as manifested in the freshman year. That’s what the essay is supposed to be about. Colleges and universities that care will accumulate their data points over the next year or so, then make a determination about the essay’s validity. It’s a toss up right now.
–Barry Mallis OC’68