Oberlin Blogs

50 Pearls of Wisdom: Part One

June 27, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

In honor of the Class of 2018 who may read (or stumble upon) this post--this is for you! I rarely blog about Oberlin in the direct sense without finding some way to insert my own personal narrative in it but since I know the summer before college is crucial decision-making time, I am willing to calm the stressful waters just a little bit in the best way that I know how.

To help some of you avoid the "initial shock" that Oberlin will give you during that hot week in late August, I have pulled together fifty different pieces of advice that I think about all the time. Some of it are things that I have come into understanding, other things are advice that significant people in my life have given me. A lot of these points are things that I share when I give my honest retelling of my Oberlin experience--as someone who works with a lot of prospective and multicultural students who visit campus, I try to give a rounded account of my years on this campus.

For me, that means being real about the good and the astounding but also the bad and the terrible and everything else in between. What I will also do is write a part two to this if folks would appreciate/like some more context/dialogue around these points or would like me to address something else that is not listed... be on the lookout for that. So with that said, here are my fifty "pearls of wisdom" for the incoming class that hopefully help somebody out somewhere along the way.


  1. Let go of your high school you.
  2. Read course descriptions all the way through.
  3. A struggle class will come into your collegiate life, accept it.
  4. Ask questions all the time and be fearless in asking them.
  5. Get organized and work your resources.

Professors and Mentors

  1. Get to know faculty, departments, staff, TAs and your classmates.
  2. Introduce yourself, talk about your goals and share yourself.
  3. Speak up in class!
  4. Put your best work forward and believe that it represents a part of who you are.
  5. Build relationships and put the work and effort to make them last.

The Roommate Situation

  1. Establish room/house rules early.
  2. Be honest about your needs, expectations and hopes.
  3. Decide where the line is and when it has been crossed.
  4. Agree to disagree.
  5. Folks who live outside your living space do not need to know all your business.


  1. They have complicated interests and responsibilities which are not always clear to a lot of people.
  2. Transparency, cooperation, forum, sit-in and other terms are frequently used between the student body and administration to express some type of miscommunication between the two.
  3. Effective communication could fix/avoid a lot of issues, but there is major work to be done in that direction.
  4. Like any other college/university, the administration has good intentions (I believe more times than not); it is just the method, execution and articulation that is lackluster. Good intentions only go so far.
  5. There will be numerous times in your college career where you may have to challenge the administration based on your principles, values and understandings of what is "right." Be radical.

How to Hold a Conversation

  1. A lull in conversation is not awkward; it may be necessary.
  2. Own your experience, views, prejudices and understandings as your own.
  3. Accept that you are an expert on nothing but your own experiences.
  4. Believe that your opinion is not always needed, your thoughts are not always golden and that sometimes silence is the best option.
  5. Respect any and everyone you speak to. Require them to respect you back.

"Safe Space" and Why It Is NOT for Everyone

  1. Everyone will have a different definition of safe space and an opinion on whether or not they think it exists. Listen to them and comprehend what they said. It is useful.
  2. Make yourself aware that there are indeed specific spaces on campus that you will not feel comfortable/welcome in. And, no, it is not always just a racial/ethnic thing. Respect a community's right to be in community with one another without your forced or well-justified presence.
  3. It is not about you.
  4. Learn what it means to be an ally in action, not in name.
  5. Support communities you love in more ways than one that go beyond the superficial.

The Bubble and Other Split-Campus Topics

  1. Oberlin is a part of the real-world and therefore has real world problems.
  2. The radical-liberal versus ultra conservative binary is real and people vary on their politicized viewpoints. Ask what informs those opinions in an effort to better understand the person and why they act as they do.
  3. Conversations around sex, sexual preference, gender identity and expression and such is necessary and relevant conversation for everyone. You have to listen and give a damn about what is being shared, though.
  4. Privilege and disadvantage manifest in different ways. Be cognizant of that.
  5. Be slow to speak and even slower to judge.

Relationships and Friendships

  1. Define your needs first and foremost. Do not lose yourself accommodating for any and everyone before your self.
  2. Accept that you cannot be everything to everyone all the time. People who love you know this and accept it.
  3. Distance can make the heart grow fonder and can also complicate old relationships. More times than not, you have to ride it out and see where things will go.
  4. Home is never going to be the same again, for better or for worse.
  5. The people meant to stay in your life will be the ones with you at your lowest. Love these people with your best and cherish them because they make the hard days easier to handle.

Support, Mental Health and Self-Care

  1. College is new, shiny, beautiful and all of that but it is also demanding, stressful and lonely at times.
  2. A lot of people experience depression, anxiety, loneliness and other mental health issues. Brace yourself for this reality.
  3. Believe that you are not ever really alone. It feels like it, I get it. Someone somewhere gets it.
  4. Take care of yourself--mentally, physically, emotionally and in all the ways you need to make sure you are as close to your best as possible.
  5. Take mental health days, sick days, I'm-gonna-treat-myself-because-I-worked-hard days, workout times and whatever else can act as motivator for you to make it through those rough weeks that will happen.

Conversations That I Hold Dear To This Day

  1. "Baby, people just like to throw around a lot of wind. Don't you let anyone make you feel less than in that classroom when you have earned that seat you are sitting in."
  2. "Is it just your lot in life to always give more than you receive?"
  3. "I am concerned for you, all of you, and I want to make sure that I do right by you in your time of need."
  4. "We're going to help you get through this. We'll support you in the ways you need."
  5. "What motivates you to do all the things that you do? Where is your support system located and what do they do for you?"

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