Tobacco, like Apartheid, is much too big for Oberlin to attack by itself
I apologize for hurting your precious feelings
To the Editor,
During the 1980s, Oberlin College refuses to divest its investments in South Africa, thereby helping the Apartheid government there. By the time Oberlin divests, it is a scant few years before the transition to democracy.
In 1997, Oberlin College accepts a $200,000 grant for the Environmental Studies building from Philip Morris, a company which stays in business by selling an addictive drug to children.
Is there a parallel here? In conversations I've had around campus, there is no debate that tobacco companies are immoral. However, there is a certain ambivalence regarding taking tobacco money. Either it's the fact that almost all grants are going to be somewhat questionable, or the idea that we're pulling one over on Philip Morris. And there is no denying that the Environmental Studies building needs millions more dollars to be realized.
The problem is that Philip Morris is a very shrewd company; it wouldn't have been able to become one of America's biggest cigarette companies if it weren't. Their accountants and PR people have done their homework, and decided that the $200,000 they invest in the ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES building is going to give them a reasonable return. Between the tax write-offs for a donation to a non-profit, good advertising, and the business sense of supporting an investor (Oberlin College has Philip Morris stocks in its portfolio), Philip Morris is likely profiting from this grant as much they would from, say, a similar investment in billboard advertising or a change in packaging. They wouldn't have donated otherwise.
As far as all grants being somewhat questionable, not all money is equally tainted. The Web shows statistics claiming that Philip Morris has up to 60% of the youth cigarette market. Even if that figure is inflated by a factor of two, the company is still among the worst of the worst. On the other hand, the anonymous $2 million donation Oberlin received over the summer that was funneled to the future science complex shows that not all grants have to be from people with blood on their hands.
Philip Morris is a bad company. They, like all tobacco companies, rely on children spending their lunch money on cigarettes to stay in business. And Philip Morris is going to profit from their investment in Oberlin College. If I could back it up, I'd promise to do $200,000 of damage to the new Environmental Studies building myself. But that wouldn't solve the problem, which is Oberlin supporting an immoral institution.
For almost fifty years, grand Apartheid kept 80% of South Africa's population on 20% of its land, without the right to free speech, assembly, vote, or hold a meaningful job; those who disagreed with the government were coerced, imprisoned or killed. Oberlin supported this institution well through the 1980s by investing and profiting from South African companies, which in turn exploited powerless labor and supported the Apartheid government. With our acceptance of Philip Morris's $200,000 grant, we support a company which exists by virtue of its addicting children to its product, which will likely kill them. Tobacco, like Apartheid, is an institution too big for Oberlin to attack by itself; the only way we can make a difference in this game is to not play at all. Please e-mail David Orr, with cc: to Dean Koppes with a message that we cannot accept a grant from Philip
To the Editor:
(This is an open letter to Jay Paul Gates.)
I am sorry that uppity folks of color on this campus haven't immediately cleared a path for you and rolled out a red carpet (for your regal little feet to tread on) upon catching sight of you coming toward them on various Oberlin footpaths. It also pains me greatly to know that haughty minority students haven't even had the decency to return your shining symbol of white male benevolence and goodwill towards "them"- your sweet smile. Further, as a person of color, let me extend my condolences (no hard feelings). Those awful and persistent attacks and accusations made by people of color, directed towards white people, are obviously tall tales spun by people of color with over active imaginations (If they knew how much it hurt your wee heart, I'm sure they would reexamine their positions). Racism my ass! Who ever heard such nonsense? Why such fuss and bother for a few injustices? Wah, wah, wah.
I will do everything in my power, from this day forward, to ensure that evil, malicious - and dare I say - brutish minorities don't hurt your feelings ever again. Don't worry your little white, privileged head over it. Everything is going to be just fine.
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 13, February 6, 1998
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