Honoring Retired Ombudsperson Yeworkwha Belachew (YB)
Oberlin College and Conservatory have benefited from the extraordinary service of so many faculty and staff members through the years. One of the greatest is Yeworkwha Belachew, or YB as she is known to Oberlin’s students, faculty, staff, and residents. For the past 35 years, YB has been a pillar of this community in a variety of posts, most recently as ombudsperson.
YB retired earlier this semester, and we officially celebrated her service as ombudsperson in early October with a ceremony at the Lewis House. It was a wonderful and moving gathering that highlighted YB’s many contributions to Oberlin's culture and community. Her work as ombudsperson has touched—directly and indirectly—the lives of almost every person on this campus.
One of YB’s greatest achievements was establishing, nurturing, and guiding the Oberlin College Dialogue Center (OCDC), which is celebrated nationally as a best-practices model. So many students have benefited from her teachings and gone on to successfully mediate and moderate important and sometimes controversial or contentious events on campus.
At her retirement celebration on October 3, we honored her by renaming the OCDC as the Yeworkwha Belachew Center for Dialogue at Oberlin College.
I’m pleased to announce that we are also creating a new staff award that will bear YB’s name. The Yeworkwha Belachew Staff Award will be given annually to an employee who has gone above and beyond in service to Oberlin College. I’m thrilled to announce that the first recipient will be YB, who will receive the award at the annual staff awards dinner in April 2016.
YB is one of the most determined advocates for social justice I have ever met. I have benefited greatly from her advice, counsel, and tireless commitment to helping Oberlin become a stronger, more inclusive institution.
One of YB’s precepts is that all of us at Oberlin need to be accountable for our words and our actions every single day. She also believes we need to listen to each other with open minds and hearts and to work together to find solutions to issues which arise on our campus and in our town.
Like so many of us, YB is deeply proud of Oberlin’s history. But she always reminds us that Oberlin’s historic milestones—admitting students of all races, coeducation, civil rights in the 1960s, environmental sustainability—were produced by long, complex, and sometimes contentious political and social processes here and in the wider world.
She never pretends Oberlin is perfect, but YB embodies Oberlin’s commitment to constantly struggling to overcome the world’s imperfections through education, hard work, and dialogue. Her example will continue to guide us in our search for a new ombudsperson and in our daily lives. Thank you, YB, for everything you’ve done for Oberlin. We wish you all the best. Know that you will always be part of Oberlin.
A quick shout-out to our cross-country runners and coaches on a stellar season. Geno Arthur ’16 became Yeoman cross country’s first male North Coast Athletics Conference (NCAC) champion this past weekend, and the men’s team finished third in the conference. The women’s team, led by Sarel Loewus ’16, who finished sixth overall, finished second in the NCAC, just six points behind Allegheny. I wish you all great success at the upcoming NCAA regional meet on November 14.