Activism is a highly charged word. ‘Activism’ evokes images of violent protests, marches, the storming of public buildings, and romantic images of ‘radical’ behavior that dominate the media and lodge themselves in the fibers of the youth-culture. When I matriculated into Oberlin in the Fall of 2004, I entered believing that Oberlin was an institution with a strong history of social justice, forward-thinking scholars and students, and a culture that begets ‘activism’. I had romanticized this world of “sexy” activism for most of my life and could not understand the role of dialogue and mediation in any effort towards social justice.
However, as a Woman of African descent, engaged in social justice work around the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, attending a predominately white institution, I quickly realized that what I needed, wanted, and longed for most was a place to speak freely. I needed space to discuss those issues pertinent to my work and life as a growing activist and artist-scholar, a place to discuss the ways in which identity politics (such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, to name a few) and systems of oppression affected not only my life outside of Oberlin, but also my life and experiences on-campus.
The Oberlin College Dialogue Center (OCDC) served as the necessary bridge between dialogue and social justice: foregrounding and articulating the ways in which dialogue and conflict resolution can be used to build communities across physical, spiritual, geographic, and ideological differences. The OCDC model states that “all voices and people deserve a seat at the table” and as a Woman of African descent who has often felt voiceless, disempowered, and without access, because of my race, class, gender, and orientation, OCDC became a site for transforming myself from within, reclaiming my voice and my ability to advocate for myself and my community, whilst aiding other members of the Oberlin community in the process of creating dialogue across differences.
My experiences as a member of OCDC have been invaluable in my growth as an activist, as an artist, and as an individual. The function of the organization and my experiences as a member cannot be fully articulated in this small space. OCDC continues to redefine and challenge the face of activism on campus both for me and other campus community members. It is a space that uses dialogue to empower all individuals, with the hopes of building an inclusive campus-climate and global community where individuals can interact with each other earnestly; so that we can truly affect change and live amongst each other with a sense of integrity, understanding, and compassion.