November 24, 2020 4:30 PM
Meredith Gadsby and Bill Quillen

Dear members of the Oberlin College & Conservatory community,

We hope this message finds you well and that the Fall Semester is coming along nicely.

Earlier this year, President Ambar launched the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity to elevate Oberlin’s early mission as a leader in educating Black people and to ensure Oberlin remains a national leader in this work. 

We write now to offer an update on the Presidential Initiative’s work since President Ambar formally announced its membership and charge.

Over the past few months, Commission members have been hard at work identifying priorities and objectives that can be realized this academic year, as well as others targeted for the next. We have begun gathering information to highlight work already underway at Oberlin that answers the call of the Presidential Initiative, while locating areas in need of focused attention.

The Commission’s twenty-one members have formed four working groups (Personnel, Curriculum, Student Life & Learning, and Student Success) to identify priorities and set both near- and longer-term goals.  Over the coming months, much of the Commission’s work will take place within these working groups. In the early part of the Spring Semester, these groups will submit draft findings and initial recommendations to the full Commission, which will then synthesize and harmonize the recommendations throughout the remainder of the semester, with the goal of presenting a final report to President Ambar and the community by June 2021.

Beyond these efforts, the Commission has initiated conversations with campus leaders engaged in equity and diversity work focused on the success of Black and POC students, faculty, and staff.  We have reviewed documents submitted in recent months, including petitions from ABUSUA (The Black Student Union) and the Oberlin College Black Musicians Guild (OCBMG).  

And we have launched a series of programs designed to explore topics at the heart of the Commission’s work, including a conversation with Rachel Cargle about Black student wellness and activism which Meredith Gadsby moderated and an event, produced in collaboration with the Heisman Club, featuring Tommie Smith.

As we pursue this work, it is important to recognize the efforts of students and colleagues across campus who have historically answered President Ambar’s charge, and those new to the effort. Oberlin’s Student Senate recently formed a Race Relations and Equity Committee to elevate concerns surrounding the myriad forms of violence perpetrated against Black people. The Multicultural Resource Center continues to offer student support and programming, with an emphasis on emotional wellness and self-care. The Afrikan Heritage House offers a safe space for Black students across campus to enjoy programming and dining experiences highlighting Black experience internationally. 

In the College of Arts & Sciences, numerous departments are offering curricula and events exploring racial injustice, police-community relationships, and violence (e.g., a forthcoming lecture in February 2021, cosponsored by Comparative American Studies and Africana Studies, by Marisol LeBrón on policing Black people in Puerto Rico). The College Faculty Council also issued a statement affirming Oberlin’s ongoing commitment to celebrating Black lives.  

In the Conservatory, the faculty recently approved a comprehensive and ambitious plan to remake key aspects of its curriculum, programming, admissions procedures, personnel policies, and more, with the goal of creating a more equitable, diverse, anti-racist conservatory education. The work articulated in this plan—informed by extensive conversation over the summer between Conservatory faculty, administration, and student and alumni leaders, including current and alumni members of OCBMG—is already underway.

In keeping with our history, we are poised to offer ongoing leadership in higher education. Please join us in celebrating our partnership with DePauw University, Macalester College, Occidental College, and Pomona College to establish the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) to foster greater understanding on matters of race and equity at liberal arts institutions across the country. This work is taking place in collaboration with USC’s Race & Equity Center, with whom we’re working on all aspects of the Initiative.

We look forward to offering periodic updates throughout the year. On behalf of Commission members, we thank you for your commitment to and support of this work.

Until then, we wish you a safe and restful break and a successful completion of the Fall Semester.

Respectfully,

Meredith Gadsby and Bill Quillen 
Co-Chairs, Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity & Diversity