Oberlin Blogs

Oberlin at a (Social) Distance

January 15, 2022

Ariel Roberts ’25

As Omicron fears and positive cases rise, everyone is worried about having to amp down our recently reopened in-person activities, and I’m sure high school students are worried about if in-person college visits are possible, on top of the already-present stress of college decisions, schoolwork, and living in a pandemic. To help assuage any anxieties, I’d like to tell you about my visit to Oberlin in Spring 2021 during my senior year of high school, and how even socially distanced I was able to get a good enough sense of the school to persuade me to attend.

When I arrived at Oberlin on my trip to visit some Ohio colleges, the visit was a bit less involved than I expected. Oberlin has always been extra cautious and proactive about COVID-19, so while other colleges I visited took us on tours, we instead had to take ourselves on a walking tour of the campus and were unable to enter any buildings. Moreover, many students were not on campus, so the life of the college was rather dimmed. I remember, though, after stopping by the Admissions Office and deciding where we wanted to walk, immediately being struck by Tappan Square. Whenever I pictured my dream college, I always saw a lush, green campus, one where you could lie on the grass and study under a sunny sky, and Tappan Square was just that. I saw the beautiful gazebo and the fun painted rocks, which I learned the community tradition of after asking an admissions officer later. I didn’t catch a glimpse of a white squirrel, but was excited by the possibility. Immediately Oberlin went up a few ranks in my mental list, as I hadn’t been too excited by some of the other larger, more modern, industrial styled colleges. 

After circling the square, we walked back over to downtown Oberlin to check out the Apollo Theater, something I was excited about as a prospective Cinema Studies major. Peering inside the windows, I was fascinated that I might have some classes in a movie theater, catching a glimpse of animation and lighting equipment. I also just thought it was nice to have a movie theater nearby if I wanted to spend a Friday night with my friends catching the new blockbuster. On that note, we walked down the shops and restaurants, admiring the small independent businesses, and almost grabbed a red and gray shirt from the bookstore, but I felt a bit awkward about it, as I wasn’t entirely settled on Oberlin and all. 

We then started walking down the streets towards the dorms and class buildings. I loved the brick buildings with unique filigree and architecture which you could tell had history. We became certain of the deep history as we looked at the years carved into the sides of the buildings, seeing that many were built in the early 1900s and some even in the 1800s. Even though we couldn’t go inside and see the classrooms, which I now know are a bit more modernized, I was charmed by the old buildings that seemed to have so much more warmth to them as opposed to the gray concrete buildings of other schools. We did stumble across some newer buildings, though, such as the Science Center, which was built in 2001. My parents were excited to see it as they are both doctors, and I was intrigued by it as I never really associated Oberlin with STEM. I knew Oberlin had STEM majors, but never really thought about the facilities, as Oberlin is most known for the Conservatory and I was focused on the Cinema department. I found it fitting, though, that the Science Center was one of the more modern buildings, and the architecture was just as cool as the old buildings. 

I didn’t really get a sense of the dorms on that trip, as we only saw them in passing and couldn't go inside, but when I got back home, I watched some videos on Oberlin’s YouTube channel, saw some pictures, and thought they weren’t half bad. Maybe they weren’t very modern, and a bit inconvenient that some don’t have air conditioning, but now that I’m at Oberlin, I have to say, the rooms are much more spacious and comfortable than ones I saw on other college visits (although I might’ve just got lucky with my room!). It was also cool to see some of the village houses, and we were intrigued to pass by the train track memorial for Oberlin’s involvement with the Underground Railroad.

Near the end of our trip, we walked in the block that has Mudd Library and Wilder Hall and so often acts as a hub for student activities. At the time, though, it had an air of melancholy, as there were only a few students walking around, nothing at all like how it normally is. We came across an art piece, though, that is made of slats, so when you are on one side it looks like one thing, and another on the other. A monument for John Frederick Oberlin, who the college was named after, it is meant to show how different perspectives can coexist in peace, and I felt that it was something very unique. I pass it nearly every day as I walk from classes to the library or DeCafe, and every time I see it, I’m reminded of my college visit. Sure, maybe some years ago when I pictured myself visiting colleges I didn’t expect it to be on a nearly deserted campus with everyone wearing masks, but despite the unfortunate conditions, the visit was memorable and satisfying nonetheless. 

Finally, as we headed back to the Admissions Office to wrap up our visit, we stopped by the Conservatory. I thought the architecture was so interesting, and could feel the air of prestige it held. We saw some students walking with their instruments to class, and I thought that it must be so fun (although rigorous) to study music in college. I knew I had to take a class at the Con when I got the chance - and now I will be for Winter Term! Lastly we saw the famous koi pond, which is just as beautiful and peaceful as is described. I knew I had to use it as a study spot sometime.

Wait, was I just thinking about myself attending Oberlin? I realized I was, that I could really picture myself going there, something I hadn’t immediately felt at any of the other colleges I visited. While I still had plenty of research and decision-making to do, especially in regards to exploring the insides of buildings and classes through Oberlin’s website and YouTube channel, Oberlin held a tiny spark in my mind. I loved the size of the campus; it was very tiny compared to other colleges I visited, but I liked how easily we could walk around it and not get lost without a tour guide, along with how the smallness gave it a homey, comfortable feel. It was a place I could easily get acclimated to, and one I could quickly envision my college experience at. I didn’t commit to a college until practically the last minute, April 30th, as I had Top 3 colleges with just as many pros and cons as Oberlin did, but when it came down to it, I remembered the feeling the campus gave me as we walked around it that spring day. Even though we just saw the outside of what the school has to offer, it was enough for me to realize that Oberlin was the place for me.

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