trying to find specific examples of Oberlins issues with race,
we are constrained not by the lack of examples but rather by the
great number of them. Last years sportsphobia fiasco, the
anonymous signs that went up in a co-op claiming it was racist,
white people suck chalkings at Wilder, charges levied
against various campus organizations of cultural appropriation:
all are permutations of race relations that are endless and infinitely
troubling. Despite having one of the most prestigious histories
of any multi-racial institution, Oberlin is as segregated, maybe
more so, than any college which started admitting minorities in
One of the more recent examples of the polarity which consistently
threatens our campus was the attempt to form a Coalition Against
Racism and War. The first meeting of this group was attended by
at least a hundred people, many of them people of color. By the
time the next few meetings rolled around, the number of people of
color had dwindled into near non-existence, the group dogged by
rumors of exclusivity.
Lets be upfront and honest about the problem: there is an
incredible amount of racial tension at Oberlin. We have a population
of people of color that feels safe enough to make their voices heard,
but they still feel called to explain themselves to the majority.
They see a campus that contains a lot of white privilege that is
unacknowledged, and a lot of unthinking racism that is denied. Some
white students, on the other hand, are perplexed by these accusations.
They are politically liberal or radical and dont feel they
have much more growing to do in the direction of anti-racism.
Both sides hide their positions, disclosing them only to people
who are safe. Some people of color try to keep bad feelings
behind closed doors, but they have a way of exploding into the daylight.
Most whites are afraid of seeming racist. The battlegrounds are
cultural appropriation and safe space things that make people
angry. So students communicate in code, making sure theyre
talking to someone who wont misunderstand, of whatever race.
Cultural appropriation or cultural exchange, how do we know? How
do we start to fix it? Can we get the anger out in the open? The
last time there was an all-campus meeting on race, several hundred
people crammed into Wilder Bowl. The fact that the meeting ended
in disaster is even more incentive to keep trying. People clearly
want to talk about this issue, but theyre afraid of being
judged. It is unproductive to continue throwing accusations right
and left from the safety of our own sides of campus. The name-calling
must end. Race must be an ongoing discussion so that Oberlin can
live up to its reputation.