Students protest lack of administrative support

by Hanna Miller

First there wasn't anybody. There'd been the requisite planning sessions the night before, the discussions of what Oberlin really needed now. But nobody appeared to join their voices in the demonstration scheduled for the morning of October 16.

But later that morning, some people congregated on Mudd Ramp. A few more people joined. The chanting started. "No Justice, No Peace." High above, several women poked their heads out of the windows of Warner to add their cries. "No Justice, No Peace." Lean on me

By early afternoon, 40 people had gathered in front of Mudd to demonstrate for attention to the needs of under-respresented communities at Oberlin. According to fliers distributed at the demonstration, particpants demanded institutional support for students of color, low-income, first-generation, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, female and differently-abled students, faculty and administrative staff. The fliers also called for ethnic and cross-cultural studies, recruitment and retention support, administrative accountability and a commitment to diversity.

"If you agree with what we're saying, come join us," said senior Rich Santiago. "If you don't understand, ask questions." Some students crossed over from the crowd of on-lookers to join the group of protestors at the base of the ramp.

"Our first concern was to ensure access to the library," Director of Libraries Ray English said. Although the protestors assured English that they would not block students entry to the library, English said the protestors did link arms and form a barrier to the ramp.

"We opened up the A-level doors," English said. "I would have been happier if they'd let people in and out of the library. I support the rights of demonstrators to express their point of view. I hope anyone doing protests will try to ensure the rights of others."

The demonstrators moved away from the library and headed to Cox, chanting "The people united will never be defeated." A dozen of the students entered the building to schedule appointments to meet with Dean of the College Clayton Koppes and President of the College Nancy Dye after Fall Break.

After leaving Cox, the demonstrators embarked on a walking tour of campus, carrying their message from one building to another.

Sophomore Bobbi Lopez was among the demonstrators. "I'm here because I want to be united," Lopez said. "It's not about Charlene Cole, it's not about Deb McNish."

This is to show that people from different backgrounds can come together and voice what they believe in," said sophomore Javiela Evangelista, who periodically left her position in the orderly march to hand fliers to passsers-by. "It's for everyone. We need to take responsibility."

The demonstrators continued to chant and clap as they moved through the halls of Rice and King, inspiring some resentment from students in the midst of mid-terms.

"I guess I thought it was too distracting at the time," sophomore Diana D'Agostino said. D'Agostino was in a statistics class in King during the protest. Her professor valiantly attempted to continue as the protestors approached, but the noise level of their chants precluded his teaching. He put his chalk down.

The demonstration then moved south to the Conservatory. After scheduling appointments with Dean of the Conservatory Karen Wolff, the protestors entered the library. The beat of the protest permeated the room, causing students hunched over in listening carrells to remove their headphones and stand up to see. The rhythym proved contagious, as library staff started to stomp their feet and clap their hands along with the protestors.

Double-degree fifth-year Mirna Valerio was working behind the circulation desk. Valerio leaned far over the desk and exclaimed, "This is great, it's wonderful. I'm so happy. They're doing it and disrupting the peace we think we have at Oberlin."

After each stop, the demonstrators debriefed quickly. Santiago inquired whether people had enough energy to continue. The protest moved quickly across Tappan Square to the Admissions Office. Amid the Change the World viewbooks, the demonstrators continued their cries.

Christopher Gatzke was visiting Oberlin from Circleville, Ohio. Gatzke's father, who sat beside his son in the lobby of the admissions office, professed that most of the controversy in Circleville centered around who grew the biggest vegetables that year. Gatzke was surprised by the demonstration.

"I've never seen that kind of rally before," he said. "As long as they're making their cause known, it's real positive."

Martha Lermond, Chemistry lab manager, had a somewhat different take. Lermond stood in the hallway, shaking her head as the protest moved through Kettering.

"This is a terrible disturbance," Lermond said. "I have no idea what they're saying because they're making such a racket. I'm concerned about students doing difficult math. They're trying to do chemistry problems now. Did Farrakhan call for this?"

As the protest wound past labs, students in lab coats and rubber gloves appeared at the doorways to hug the protestors and clap their hands. "I wish I could be with them," said one student who was busy dissecting a cat when the sounds of the demonstrators' chants wafted through the classroom. "This is all the support I can give," she said as she clapped along.

Professor of Biology Dennis Luck stood outside his office to ask the protestors to stop singing. Luck told the students at the head of the protest that their tactics amounted to blackmail. The message became confused by the time it reached the tail end of the line.

"This has nothing to do with singing or black males," said one member of the Biology department who was positioned near the back of the protest. "Your classmates are in class and they're not the ones that need to be annoyed."

The protestors agreed to leave after scheduling an appointment with Luck.

Finding one last surge of energy, the protestors marched to the snack bar. "No Justice, No Peace," they cried. At 4:30, after hours of demonstrating, the crowd dispersed.

First-year Heather Schwartz watched as the protestors finished their chants on the steps of Wilder.

"I was starting to feel we were overwhelmed by apathy," Schwartz said. "I feel good."

"The presence of people of color on campus is so strong now," senior Melody Waller said. "No one can ignore us."

Dye and Koppes have met with a number of students this week who scheduled appointments during the demonstration.

"We've had some very informative and productive discussions," Koppes said. "I welcome this opportunity. In general, I think this will help us have a better understanding of education at Oberlin for all students. I thought the demonstration was healthy. Those who participated got their point across quite clearly."

Students met Monday to discuss the future of the coalition effort and demands introduced by the demonstration.

"It doesn't stop here," Santiago said.

"We are Aware: Demonstrators spoke out for administrative support for under-represented students on campus. They gathered on the ramp of Mudd on October 16. (photo by Laren Rusin)


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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997

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