Editorial: The Diverse Realm of Value and Experience
In Ishmael Beah’s convocation speech Tuesday night, he stressed the importance of a college education and how much of a privilege it is to have the opportunity to attend an institution such as this one. Beah encouraged the audience of Obies to communicate as much as possible with fellow students — specifically those with values or perspectives that differ from our own — to bounce ideas off one another as well as to strengthen and define our own characters and beliefs. He said all this in the hope that after college, we will be able to work together for the good of the world with people of far more varied opinions than exist on campus. In the meantime, the Oberlin community seems to be a place where it is hard to put such ideals into action.
Oberlin is a relatively diverse institution, yet we often forsake the benefits of that diversity and surround ourselves with those exactly like us, even within the already-shrunken sphere of a small liberal arts college. Too often do we pass up valuable dialogue on campus between different groups of people with myriad viewpoints, culture and experience.
The campus co-op system that comprises nearly one-fifth of the Oberlin student body is a perfect example of an esoteric group of Obies who share many of the same values – specifically of communal effort and organic food. Although the co-op system presents an intimate, safe place to enjoy shared living and bounce opinions off one another, the co-ops also present boundaries. Lack of diversity within OSCA is a persistent problem, despite yearly efforts and dialogue by the Committee on Privilege and Oppression. Co-ops might also be intimidating for those who have no prior experience to unknowingly enter into such a stratified setting. These boundaries can block much-needed campus-wide discussion.
It is often a challenge at Oberlin to find people with very different values. Most students come to Oberlin to surround themselves with like-minded people, and turn to academic essays and documentaries to learn about people from different walks of life. How often when different viewpoints do meet up on campus are they discussed in a way in which both parties learn something? It seems that people more likely talk at one another, not with.
Although diversity in cultural backgrounds cannot be genuinely bragged about as Oberlin’s main draw, we can be proud of other types of campus diversity in the community. Oberlin students travel the world, live in Buddhist communities, start all sorts of clubs and hitchhike across states, accumulating a wealth of experiences. It is not unheard of here to have friends who take time off to go and be productive members of society – volunteering at farms, NGOs and community centers, already offering up their valuable talents to the world at large. Many of these ventures are inspired by listening to the stories of others. Sharing experiences lets us learn from each other, inspiring new ideas and making us aware of new opportunities. It also helps to define and strengthen our characters, preparing us to mirror qualities of the life that Beah advocates we live.