When Campus Security was sent to evict junior Matt Holford from his room in South Hall on March 9, a series of events were set into motion which included Holford and some of his friends barricading themselves into his room for most of Saturday, a speak-out/rally held on the steps of Wilder Hall, letters being written to the Review, Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk and President Nancy Dye, as well as the eventual eviction of Holford from all on-campus housing.
The end result of all the actions was the eviction of Holford from his residency in South Hall. He was instructed to find housing somewhere off-campus and has since vacated his room.
The reasons given for the eviction in the notice Holford received from Cole-Newkirk were "at least three complaints yesterday [March 6] that were filed by other residents about your unlawful possession and use of illicit drugs in your room."
The letter also said that Holford had been involuntarily transferred to South, though Holford said that he chose to move from East Hall to South in mid-February.
Juniors Josh Robinson and Ben Selman, and a few other students who elected to barricade themselves with Holford, said that the College had not gone through the proper due process channels.
According to the Rules and Regulations of the College, a student is supposed to be given 48 hours notice before being evicted. The students claimed that Holford had only been given 36 hours. They also said that the accusations made in the eviction notice were partially false.
Though federal law precludes Cole-Newkirk from commenting on Holford's case specifically without his permission, Cole-Newkirk said that the rules outlined in the Regulations Book had been followed.
Holford and his companions displayed their displeasure with the eviction notice by posting the note on Holford's door after Robinson had used it as toilet paper. "There was enough shit on it already," Holford said.
At noon on March 9, when the eviction notice was supposed to take effect, Holford and company placed his desk, computer and refrigerator against the door in order to prevent anyone from physically removing them from the room.
According to Holford, Security found out about the barricade when it responded to a noise complaint called in about Holford's room. More officers, including Interim Director of Security Joe DiChristina, were dispatched to the scene. Despite DiChiristina's assurances that no efforts would be made to remove Holford and the others from the room, the barricade was left standing for most of the duration of the day.
DiChristina declined to comment on Holford's case and said that respecting an individual's privacy is important in cases such as this.
At about 1:30 p.m., following the visits from DiChristina and Security, Cole-Newkirk and Assistant Dean of Students Yeworkwha Belachew came to South and joined the growing number of administrators and curious students lining the narrow hallway outside of the room.
Cole told the inhabitants of the room that she would call Holford's parents and the President of the college if he did not open up the door and comply with the evicition notice. The protestors turned up their music and the door remained closed.
According to Holford, Cole had earlier proposed a contract that would allow him to stay on campus, but it would allow searches of his room whenever there was any complaint. He decllined the offer.
By 2 p.m. the administrators and the security members had left South, and only the students and the barricade remained. At around 4:20 p.m. Holford called the Office of Residential Life to find out if the eviction notice had been rescinded. They were instructed by Belachew to call Cole, who was not home.
For the afternoon, the protestors passed the time talking about how much they expected to be dragged out by the police, saying that they were slightly annoyed that they had not been. The protestors stayed until about 6:30 p.m., at which point they left the room through the window, the barricade remaining in place.
On Sunday night, Holford went before the Student Senate to inform them about his situation. "I went because a friend on the ACLU advised me to," Holford said.
Senate originally supported Holford's decision to stay in his room and passed several proposals concerning his case.
At the meeting, sophomore Blair Heiserman said, "As senators, we have to be against this because it is an abuse of power."
The first proposal, from Senator senior Noah Bopp, encouraged supporting Holford and urging Cole to clarify the drug and alcohol policy with student input. This proposal was passed by 14, with one abstention.
The second proposal passed by 14, with one abstention. It called for a meeting between a group of senators, Cole-Newkirk and Dye to discuss the drug and alcohol policy and gather information about Holford.
A third proposal passed called for a meeting between Cole-Newkirk and senators, and inviting Cole-Newkirk to a Senate meeting.
The Senators did decide not to write a letter of support to Cole-Newkirk, feeling that they did not know enough about Holford's case. At the meeting senator sophomore Dan Persky said, "I do not think we should write a letter yet ... We don't understand the rules here."
During the week, Heiserman met with Cole and found out some of the Residential Life side of the case. "Matt has a long history with Residential Life," Heiserman said, referring to past complaints about Holford in East, where he previously lived.
The main reason for the eviction given by Cole-Newkirk, Heiserman said, was that Holford was continuing to be a disturbance to the community.
After talking to Cole, Heiserman said that some of his initial concern over the fairness of the proceedings diminished. "It sounds as if [Cole-Newkirk] was acting a lot more within her powers ... It was in her power [to evict Holford] ... It concerns me that she didn't wait until the end of the judicial process.
Holford currently faces Judicial Board charges. Though his trial was supposed to occur on Thursday, it was postponed until Monday. He also faces Community Board charges.
Heiserman also said that Cole-Newkirk told him that the eviction notice was given within 48 hours, but that Holford was not in his room when Security delivered it.
Sophomore Senator Andreas Pape said, "My concern is that a precedent is being set if rules can be cast aside because the issue is drugs."
He said his main concern is that Holford be treated fairly, and that whether he has done anything illegal is secondary.
Selman, Robinson and Holford decided to use this event as an example of what is wrong with the College's current Drug and Alcohol policy, as well as the opportunity to attack the possibility of harsher crackdowns on drug users in the future. They organized the speak out and rally against "The War on Drugs," as fliers hung around campus referred to the event, which was held Thursday in Wilder Bowl.
Approximately 200 on-lookers listened to the speeches delivered from the steps of Wilder. The content of the speeches included many negative comments about Cole-Newkirk and the administration in general. All spoke in support of Holford.
"It could have been you instead of [Holford]," Chapin Benninghoff, a junior, told the crowd as he opened the rally.
Benninghoff said that in the past the administration did not "kick your ass out on the sidewalk" for drug violations, and that this administration seems to think of itself as the students' guardian.
Referring to the administration, Benninghoff said, "They're our employees ... Think about this - they just gave themselves raises. We pay bills around here, if we want to belch at the table ... if we want expository writing ... Then we're going to get it. If we want faculty that reflects the diversity of America, then we will have it."
Selman described Holford as the victim of a "witchhunt" and lead those in attendance in a chorus of "Fuck you Res. Life." Following this, Robinson presented a "Modest Proposal" for how to handle the effects of drug use.
"Pot smoking is wrong because it's illegal, and illegal because it's wrong," Robinson said, and outlined steps, which included establishing the Charlene Cole Memorial Rehabilitation Center, to take in order to eliminate drug use at Oberlin.
At the end of the rally, people were encouraged to sign a petition on Holford's behalf. The petition currently has approximately 230 signatures.
Some felt the rally was in support of a petty cause.
Sophomore Matt Borus said, "Look at the problems facing the faculty and school," and suggested that some of these problems are more important than that of pot smoking. He added that those speaking at the rally provided no information about the case itself.
Junior Jonathon Rochkind said, "It isn't just about our right to smoke pot. It's about our liberty, our privacy."
Senator senior Noah Bopp said he did not think the rally was an effective way of opening a dialogue with the administration and called it an attempt to sound revolutionary and glorify pot smoking.
He said that receiving federal funding is dependent on its having a drug policy. If not such funding is received then Oberlin will become a "school of rich, white pot-smokers."
Bopp said he didn't think most people took the rally seriously.
He said that by supporting Holford he thinks Senate "screwed up." Senate only had Holford's side of the story and made a quick decision, Bopp said, but is now talking to people who work in Residential Life and are telling it their side of the story.
According to Claudia Bredlau, over the previous school year, seven cases of misconduct related to drugs and alcohol were brought before J-Board.
All boarded up (Top): Juniors Matt Holford and Josh Robinson in front of the barracade they helped construct to attempt and prevent Holford's eviction from South Hall. (photo by Mike Oleson)
Blockaded (Bottom): Juniors Matt Holford and Ben Selman occupy Holford's dorm room in protest of his eviction. (photo by Mike Oleson)
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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