New Sources Open Up in Student Dismissal Case
When Conservatory sophomore and international student Zoran Stanishich was dismissed from Oberlin College at 5:40 a.m. on Oct. 16, friends and sympathetic students immediately came together online and on campus to demand answers from the administration’s decision and lobby for Stanishich’s return.
Since last week, the Facebook group “Free Zolki,” which challenges the dismissal of Stanishich, has increased in membership to include 313 students. A petition led by his former roommate, College sophomore Sam Jewler, has now acquired a total of 332 student signatures.
Because of the lack of an official statement from College officials about the incident due to confidentiality in order to protect Stanishich’s privacy, student awareness has been shaped by rumors, anonymous Oberlin Confessional posts and a document authored by Jewler, presenting his personal view. However, new sources have come forward with details that clarify the events leading up to Stanishich’s dismissal, changing the stances of Jewler and others, explaining the true reasons behind the College’s actions. Despite multiple attempts to contact Stanishich, he did not respond to requests for an interview.
Disregard for Studies
Although the College did not include academic failure as a reason for Stanishich’s official dismissal, his piano professor and advisor Monique Duphil said that his irresponsibility in regard to his major played a large part in the decision.
“He was never prepared,” said Duphil. “It was a kind of academic suicide. I would remind him that he was on a full scholarship and was expected to do an excellent job with his studies, and he would yell at me, ‘You don’t understand!’”
Associate Dean of the Conservatory Marci Alegant, who has worked with Stanishich since his first days at Oberlin, noted that “counseling was offered and suggested” numerous times. “We were worried about him,” she said.
Duphil continued, “He hardly came to any lessons or studio classes.” Last spring, according to Duphil, Stanishich only attended private lessons twice.
In the Conservatory’s piano department, first-years are required to play a jury at the end of the year, which consists of a performance for the faculty to evaluate a student’s progress. Stanishich performed “very poorly,” Duphil said. “All of my colleagues [in the piano department] agreed that he should be failed and sent back home, but I wanted to rescue him. I convinced them to let him repeat the exam in September, which we sometimes do with sophomores but never freshmen like him. When I told him about this second chance, he was very happy.”
When September came, however, Stanishich was still not ready.
“He had had four months to prepare. Although he was very talented, he never practiced. He didn’t learn a single piece. If a tennis player doesn’t practice for a year, for example, he’s nobody,” Duphil said.
“He was given a lot of opportunities from everybody. Anybody else would have been suspended for failing the jury in the spring,” said Ilya Friedberg, OC ’07, a fellow international student and piano major who now works in the Conservatory. “To the last moment, they did him a favor. The charges for his expulsion were purely security issues. The reason they didn’t put that he was failing academically on the charges was so he could have a chance to study music somewhere else. They wanted his record to be clean. He can still transfer his credits to another school.”
Duphil, along with many others, feels that Stanishich’s return to Macedonia was for the best. “In a home setting he can recover,” she said.
Jewler posted the following story on Facebook, LiveJournal and Oberlin Confessional: “Over the summer, Zolki had nowhere to stay because he is from Macedonia on a full scholarship and he didn’t have enough money to pay for accommodations. None were given to him by the College. After sleeping on a bench outside the Conservatory for several nights, he decided to take some keys from the piano shop he worked at and use them to enter and sleep in the Conservatory. A little sketchy, yes, but there were few choices.”
According to Alegant, Stanishich was offered a round-trip plane ticket to return home over the summer if he wished, but he declined. He was then given an on-campus summer job as a Conference Assistant, which included free room and board.
His friend and co-worker Conservatory junior Igor Pancevski described how he lost this first job: “He skipped his first day of work, so he was put on probation right away. Then during the second week of the job, he missed his morning shift and was fired.”
Friedberg then helped him to get two more jobs, as a Conservatory Monitor for Safety and Security and in the Conservatory’s piano shop. “He was fired from both jobs,” said Friedberg. “People should know how many opportunities he was given. We would all be lucky to get ten percent of what he got here.”
Alegant noted that even after his termination of employment from all three jobs, Oberlin continued to provide him with housing and meals. “We were very sensitive to the fact that he didn’t have resources,” she said.
A Danger to the Campus
The final incident that led to Stanishich’s dismissal occurred on Friday, Oct. 12. Jewler remembered the incident: “Zolki was hanging out with some friends of ours from the town in the lounge of Harkness. They were all eating a pizza. Someone there felt uncomfortable in the presence of these ‘townies’ and called Safety and Security.”
These friends — town residents Kyle Bromley, Brogan Dunlap-Reed, Solomon Friedman and Deantae Guice — all have extensive police records and have been on Oberlin’s “no trespass list” for some time. This past September, Bromley was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, possession of marijuana and was previously wanted for breaking and entering. He has also been documented for incidents of harassment. Dunlap-Reed has been to juvenile court, and has been caught stealing OCIDs and using them to enter campus buildings without permission, among other offenses. Friedman has been documented for a marijuana incident, inappropriate nude behavior and trespassing charges, and Guice has a history of trespassing on the Oberlin campus.
Police records show that Stanishich had a history of bringing non-students into college dormitories. A report from October 10 describes an incident when Jewler had his iPod stolen by a guest of Stanishich who Oberlin Police Detective Victor Ortiz believed to be Joseph Eric Rivera, a man recently released from prison in Columbus, Ohio.
Because of this behavior, Stanishich’s appeal to the College for his dismissal was canceled, and his dismissal was made final. “It was a painful thing that we had to do, but I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if someone had gotten hurt,” said Alegant. “The whole administration felt that it was safer for him and for the community to leave expeditiously.”
Stanishich’s relationships with former girlfriend, Conservatory sophomore and international student Judith Van Der Wat, former roommate Conservatory sophomore Justin Bartlett and long-time friend from Macedonia Pancevski followed patterns of passive-aggressive and outright violent behavior.
“He was a charming person,” said Van Der Wat. “Around October [of last year] we started dating. It was great at first…but then [he] started becoming really manipulative, controlling and verbally abusive.”
Van Der Wat went to the College with her story after learning that Stanishich was dismissed. “I wanted to report him for abuse [earlier], but I was so brainwashed by him that I felt like it was all my fault, and that I deserved what he did to me,” she said.
Stanishich’s behavior often bordered on violence. “If we were walking and he got angry at me he would grip my arm or my neck and say ‘Listen to me when I’m fucking talking to you.’ He once punched the wall next to my face.”
“I knew that something was wrong,” Friedberg said. “I’m sure that for her the relationship was very traumatic.”
Van Der Wat recalled more aspects of her relationship with Stanishich that she said her psychologist, Barbara Thompson in the Counseling Center, later helped her to realize were abusive. “When we were in groups, he would crush my hand or kick me under the table if I said something he didn’t approve of,” said Van Der Wat.
“I have seen him grab her and be physically domineering,” said Conservatory senior Meredith Clark, a friend of Van Der Wat. She remembered Van Der Wat to be “withdrawn [and] powerless…she would get this terrified look.”
While Stanshich’s behavior in public was already frightening, his controlling demeanor crossed over into sexual relations. Van der Wat described Stanishich as “controlling” and “textbook-case abusive” in the bedroom, ordering her around, judging her and forcing her to have sex with him several times a day. “I never really participated. It was always just for his pleasure, quick satisfaction for him and completely impersonal. He didn’t care about how I felt, or even if I wanted it.”
Multiple students expressed to the Review that they now feel safer with Stanishich gone.
New Answers, New Questions
After speaking with many students and administrators who dealt with Stanishich, Jewler has amended his views on the College’s actions. “I wish I had talked to them weeks ago,” he said. “I feel better now about how they handled things, and I now see why he should have been expelled.”
“Oberlin is one of the most compassionate schools in the world and would do anything for its students,” Duphil said, responding to accusations that the school acted harshly.
Stanishich was the first international student ever to be dismissed from Oberlin. This unprecedented decision has led the College to begin an internal review of its processes and policies, especially regarding international students. The Review also plans to continue looking into the College’s handling of this case.
“We’ve all been heartsick that it had to come to this. The administrators feel as bad as the students do,” said Alegant. “I really, really hope that he can turn things around and become a successful musician and person. He certainly has that potential. Everyone has that potential.”