A Call for Solidarity with Columbia Student Activists
To the Editors:
The student strikers are also protesting CU’s lack of resources for historically marginalized students and its unethical expansion into the community of West Harlem, which would result in the gentrification of the area and displacement of many low-income residents. According to the student strikers’ official statement they “strike because the university does not recognize that the lack of space for the critical study of race through Ethnic Studies, the lack of administrative support for minority students and their concerns, the lack of engagement with the community in West Harlem and the lack of true reform of the core curriculum are harmful to the intellectual life of its students. We strike because we want the administration to understand that these needs are as fundamental to students’ intellectual lives as food is to the human body.” On November 16th, after ten days, the students broke their fast due to increasing concern among community members for their well-being. The strikers have since decided to employ other methods of resistance and are asking for solidarity with their struggle.
In light of the recent events that have occurred on Oberlin’s campus we see parallels between their struggles and our own. We feel moved by the strikers’ actions and demands and feel it necessary to spread their message in an act of solidarity. On Oberlin’s campus we have witnessed increasingly problematic and uneducated assaults on the idea of safe spaces highlighted by recent discussions around Third World Co-op and Afrikan Heritage House. On Halloween, two appalling events took place. First, a white student felt entitled to wear a “costume” that included blackface around campus all day with no understanding or appreciation of the historical significance of his actions. Even after being approached by students throughout the day he continued to disregard their legitimate concerns and left on his “costume.” Second, later that same night, four white students were heard saying that Afrikan Heritage House is where all the “n*****s live.” When approached by the student who heard them they brushed off her anger, said it “wasn’t a big deal” and ran away. Because of these incidents, in addition to events earlier this semester including concerns about community safety and police brutality, we are very concerned about the seeming decline in accountability and responsibility in the Oberlin community that we are all a part of.
We are writing this letter to the Oberlin community in hopes that we can continue this dialogue around issues of racial justice with the central goal of making Oberlin feel emotionally and physically safer for all members of our community. We bring up the example of the strikers in order to show important examples of acts of resistance on campuses and in communities around the country. These incidents are not isolated and we do not have to feel isolated in our concern and frustration when these kinds of incidents do occur. We hope that the CU strikers will provide inspiration and a sense of community to those at Oberlin and around the country who feel both attacked and moved to action around the struggle for racial justice.
–Daniel Gillespie, College senior
–Marisol LeBron, OC ’07
–Juli Martin, College sophomore
–Sophia Simon-Ortiz, College junior