Oberlin Blogs

Are You In?

October 4, 2011

Marsha Lynn Bragg

By fall break, first-years and others will have experienced a full eight weeks at Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music. I'm optimistic that most newcomers will have determined that this is indeed the right college; that they made the right decision to come here. Other than one's financial circumstances, I believe how the campus community responds and accepts you is an important factor in that decision. So is your involvement outside the classroom.

I'm curious to know the whereabouts of some 65 students who participated in the annual Social Justice Institute that took place September 4 and 5 during Orientation. The Social Justice Institute (SJI) brings together students of different backgrounds and experiences to explore multicultural issues at Oberlin and the wider society.

Imagine: It's your fourth day on campus and immediately you gather at round tables set up in a campus conference room. You talk about such weighty issues as privilege and oppression, classism, heterosexism, racism, and sexism through a variety of activities including discussion, short videos, role-play, and highly interactive exercises.

That is some of what goes on during Oberlin's SJI sessions.

Oberlin Ombudsperson Yeworkwha "YB" Belachew and facilitator Deepika Marya of the University of Southern Maine listen as students share their views.


Students listen to and participate in discussions about various multicultural issues at Oberlin.



One of the large group activities involved working as a team to unscramble letters to form a statement about the community.



The goal of the institute is to create a cohesive bond among participants, to help them get involved in the college community, and to encourage the effective, concerned engagement with social issues typical of many Oberlin students.

Students who attended the SJI already had a lengthy record of involvement in their home schools and communities. It was part of the selection criteria. Their activism at home involved issues of domestic violence, suicide, environmental racism, cyberbullying, and pro-choice. Some were involved in groups such as Project Love, Gay/Straight Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, MoveOn.org, and youth groups within their local faith communities.

The SJI gave them a chance to evaluate their involvement and commitment to social justice issues, to learn about SJI-related efforts at Oberlin, and of course to connect with other students with like passions and enthusiasm.

SJI sessions stimulate, inspire, and cause students to examine why they are involved in the issues and causes they are involved in. Purposeful engagement is what's being asked of them.

By the end of day one, many students wanted to move past the dialog and find out what organizations are available to them. One student was particularly frustrated; she teared up, stating that she was beginning to think that the SJI was all talk. Several facilitators assured her the college has many student-led groups that she could align herself with and get involved in right away.

So I wonder, who's in? Who got involved? What groups at Oberlin kindled your interest or led you to attend meetings or even join? Are you in?


SJI is a program of the Office of the Ombudsperson, which also sponsors the Oberlin College Dialogue Center. Photos courtesy of Jennifer Manna. View more.

Responses to this Entry

As a returning student who attended the SJI this fall, I was excited to meet new students interested in these critical issues, and have meaningful discussions together about the problems in our society. I did at times wish we talked more about how to move beyond awareness and on to action. However, I am often inspired here at Oberlin by how much students are doing, both to raise our consciousness and take action.

Posted by: Nora on October 4, 2011 10:03 PM

I really wish that I had attended SJI as a first year. I didn't get involved with anything beyond OSCA during my first year, and this would have been a great jumping off point for me.

Ah well.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on October 7, 2011 9:30 AM

I am a first year and attended the SJI this fall. I came in with high expectations given Oberlin's history of social activism and advocacy, and was not disappointed. Though most of us were aware of the issues brought up in the discussions (racism, sexism, heterosexuism, etc.)it was interesting to talk about them in the context of Oberlin and learn about what we can do to help on the individual and local level. I am now working for the dialogue center and involved in a few peace and conflict related groups on campus. I highly recommend the SJI to anyone interested. And even if you can't join now there are many opportunities on campus for discussion of and involvement in social justice.

Posted by: Julia on October 12, 2011 11:15 AM

Julia. Glad to know you are in.... I'm inclined to believe many others are, too. There's something about this place called Oberlin.

Posted by: Marsha on October 12, 2011 11:29 AM

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