The Heart and Soul of Oberlin
The past few weeks have been extraordinarily busy and eventful, even by Oberlin standards. Since our Day of Solidarity on March 4, people have been coming together and working very hard to address the issues arising from the recent bias incidents. This process can be empowering, frustrating, exhausting, and hopeful all at once. But we know we are stronger when we are united.
I am proud of our community’s response. This is how Oberlin faces challenging times. We reaffirm our belief in Oberlin’s mission and values by gathering to listen, to discuss, and to work towards solutions. We do so because all of us have high expectations of Oberlin as a great institution of higher education and a force for good in the world. I would also remind the wider Oberlin community that the media attention we have received in recent weeks shows the world that the Oberlin community is strong, resilient, and carrying on the legacy of social justice, learning, and labor.
Every night student working groups, which were formed at the teach-in on March 4, have been meeting to come up with ideas for moving Oberlin forward. I look forward to hearing what they have to say. In the classrooms, labs, and studios, many faculty members have engaged their students in frank and sometimes difficult discussions of recent events and the atmosphere on campus. Staff members—from the custodians and groundskeepers to members of the senior staff —have also been working hard to keep Oberlin safe and sound.
I want to thank everyone for their hard work. I appreciate your efforts as do our students, parents, and alumni. Together we will make Oberlin an even better College, Conservatory and community.
I enjoyed attending the closing ceremony of Oberlin’s Black History Month celebration this past Sunday in Afrikan Heritage House. At that event, Dennis Reynolds, director of the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble (OJE) told the gathering, “with all the goings-on on campus, this is what’s happening. This is what’s right.” Later in the same program, which featured an arrangement by Professor Wendell Logan, the late, great founder of Oberlin’s jazz program, Ralph M. Jones, Afrikan Heritage House’s faculty-in-residence described the closing concert as “historic and healing.”
I agree. The arts have a special power to affirm life and to reinforce our sense of connection to each other and to something greater than our selves. This weekend, within the space of 24 hours, Oberlin students, faculty, and staff could see the Lunar New Year Banquet and its musical and cultural offerings. They could watch Dance Diaspora’s amazing show Tracing Tradition from Bóke, Guinea. And, as I did, be part of the culmination of Oberlin’s Black History Month celebration featuring the OJE; Ralph Jones’ group, the AHH Cosmic Ensemble; pianist Shea Pierre; and the poetry of Meeko Israel.
This being Oberlin, there was also a range of other arts offerings on campus this past weekend, including the Contemporary Music Ensemble, the play Luz in the Moon, the Oberlin Baroque Ensemble, and the Baroque Orchestra, to name but a few.
Even as we confront pressing social issues, this, to echo Professor Reynolds, is what’s happening at Oberlin. The cultural and artistic offerings here are unparalled in range and quality, and they reflect the diverse talents and interests of our student body.
We are acting within time-honored tradition of turning to the arts—music, dance, theater, art—for solace, for inspiration, and to express our deepest yearning and our most joyous moments. Victoria Davis’ moving rendition at our Day of Solidarity convocation of the spirituals arranged by the late, great Moses Hogan ’79, is a great example of how the arts speak to that tradition by stirring our hearts and stimulating our minds.
Other art forms also have powerful resonance. Professor Caroline Jackson-Smith’s production of The Laramie Project surely will stir us all this spring. I am also looking forward to the many concerts and other productions that will lift us, move us, and in so doing, help us heal and come together as the strong community we are.
Recently, my family and I traveled to South Africa, where I have visited several times. While there, I was inspired by the achievements of this fledgling democracy. As we are tempted to be frustrated by events on campus, let us remember the words Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter: I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
So the work continues. Many initiatives are already in motion. This week, for example, the Multicultural Resource Center is teaching workshops exploring privilege, identities, and how to develop allyship skills. The workshops are open to all.
Once again, thanks to all of you for taking on these important tasks. And many thanks for all the kind words and support for Oberlin being offered by our students, faculty, alumni, staff, parents, fellow citizens, and friends from all over the world. You are the heart and soul of Oberlin’s greatness.