Campus News

Add Your Voice to the Oberlin History Lessons Project

February 11, 2014
Sarah Cheshire

Editor’s note: Last semester, three students, seniors Sarah Cheshire and Cuyler Otsuka and sophomore Lillian White, had an idea for a community-wide project that would be held in conjunction with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s March 4, 2014, visit to campus. With support from the Office of the Dean of Students, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Bonner Center for Service and Learning, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Oberlin’s Convocation Series, submissions to the project, Oberlin History Lessons, will be incorporated into an art work to be installed in Finney Chapel in time for Trethewey’s Convocation address. The deadline for submissions is Monday, February 24.

Cuyler Otsuka, Lillian White, and I invite you to participate in community affirmation/conscientious self-reflection/installment art project to be produced in conjunction with United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s March 4 Convocation.

A biracial artist, Trethewey was raised in Mississippi in the period immediately following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Her poem “History Lesson” speaks to the memory of a photograph taken of her standing on a beach in Mississippi in 1970, in the same spot her grandmother stood 40 years earlier while the beach was still segregated. More broadly, the poem grapples with both her subjective positioning within this photograph and her emergent awareness of the larger histories framing it.

For this project, we invite you to write your own “History Lesson” statement. This statement can take the form of a poem, a story, a monologue, a stream-of-conscious narrative, or any other written medium you see fit. Your voice can take any form: abstract or concrete, lyrical or prosaic, methodical or haphazard, angry or nostalgic, bold or soft. The only requirement is that it should be rooted in your own experiences. Your lived and embodied knowledge is powerful. Speak your truth!

We hope that this project will serve as a platform through which to examine the plurality of experiences that exist within the Oberlin community and the ways in which our individual identities have been sculpted by and within larger sociopolitical, historical, and interpersonal contexts.

For our installation, we envision each individual statement hung in a web to symbolize how each story stands on its own but also is informed by/connected to each other. After Trethewey’s Convocation, we will move the installation to the Science Center, and later, we hope, to Oberlin Community Services and the Oberlin Public Library.

For more information, guidelines, and helpful tips, download the project’s statement of purpose and guidelines. You may make your submission by e-mailing it to or send them to OCMR 0378. The deadline for submissions is Monday, February 24.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at

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