Welcome to second semester! I hope everyone had a good break. I always look forward to this time of year when, alongside a spectrum of terrific projects, winter term presents us with the opportunity to reflect carefully on the fall semester in preparation for the spring.
Since the academic year began, Oberlin and many of its peers have been confronting issues of race, inclusion, and diversity. These are difficult issues that have generated a great deal of pain, anger, and frustration on our campus and across the country.
In recent weeks I have reached out to students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and parents in an effort to better understand and address these concerns. I have done so in the spirit of collaborative engagement that I described in my response to student demands on January 20. I will continue my outreach in the coming weeks.
Strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion are central elements of Oberlin’s new strategic plan, which will be presented to the General Faculty for adoption February 17. This plan was drafted over the past 16 months by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, composed of faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni, assisted and advised by some of America’s leading experts on higher education.
In addition to a bold vision for the future of curricular and co-curricular programming, stewardship of our resources, and financial and environmental sustainability, the proposed plan provides the vitally important framework in which our shared values for diversity, equity and inclusion can be realized.
I’ll write more about this soon. Right now I want to thank all the steering committee members, as well all the other Oberlin stakeholders and the external experts who put so much thought, work, passion, and time into the process of building a better future for Oberlin. You represent Oberlin’s thinking, ethos, and activist spirit at its best, and your efforts are deeply appreciated.
In January, I also had the privilege of talking with many Oberlin students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni on campus and at a variety of events in New York, Chicago, Texas, and elsewhere. These gatherings were a vivid reminder of the incredible educational opportunities Oberlin provides, especially the deep and meaningful relationships and friendships that develop between our students and faculty.
That was especially evident this past weekend in Chicago where the Oberlin family gathered to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the conservatory at two amazing concerts.
On Friday evening in Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University, the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, under the direction of Professor Timothy Weiss, performed works by leading composers of new music, including Meanwhile—Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays, by Professor of Composition Stephen Hartke, who also chairs that department.
Saturday evening at Symphony Center, Raphael Jimenez, associate professor of conducting, led the Oberlin Orchestra through a terrific program featuring the Roman Carnival Overture by Hector Berlioz, Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss featuring soprano Marcy Stonikas ’02, and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
The weekend underscored the essential role music plays in the Oberlin experience. No other academic institution of our size approaches Oberlin’s incredible wealth of musical offerings. Thanks to the vision, determination, and hard work of the conservatory’s founders and generations of faculty, staff, and students over the past 150 years, Oberlin’s name is synonymous with great music.
That same level of intense commitment to achieving musical excellence went into the performances in Chicago. I want to thank the alumni who turned out to help us celebrate the conservatory’s milestone. And many, many thanks and congratulations to our student and alumni musicians and to Andrea Kalyn, dean of the conservatory, and our outstanding faculty, staff, and students for pushing Oberlin’s excellence to new heights.
Oberlin’s commitment to excellence was also on display in January when I met with the 2016 edition of the Oberlin Business Scholars program, which was founded in 2003 by Stewart Kohl and Bela Szigethy, both Class of 1977. In the program students meet and learn from a variety of alums who are entrepreneurs and business leaders.
And Oberlin’s creativity and entrepreneurial spirit was front and center in the 2016 LaunchU venture accelerator and pitch completion, which was won by Alesandra Zsiba ’10, who was awarded $20,000 for her venture The Identity Project. The Identity Project uses a specialized curriculum in documentary storytelling, performance, and project-based literacy learning to empower marginalized young people with an opportunity for self-actualization and self-advocacy through an applied empathy practice. The ventures Storybook and Humble Grounds Roasting Company also received awards, earning $15,000 and $10,000 respectively.
Harriet Tubman Opera
Looking ahead to this weekend, I urge everyone to go to the opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, music and libretto by Nkieru Okoye ’92, which will be performed at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 6, in Finney Chapel. The opera, presented as part of Oberlin College's Africana Unity and Celebration Month, tells the story of how a young girl born in slavery becomes Harriet Tubman, the legendary Underground Railroad conductor.
This touring co-production with the Oberlin Opera Theater is part of the Cleveland Opera Theater New Opera Initiative and is the Midwest premiere of the opera following the New York City World Premiere production in February 2014. It is being performed in Cleveland-area churches and in Oberlin five times from January 29 through February 7.
The cast includes David Hughey ’03 and Oberlin students, including Amber Monroe, Victoria Ellington, Sophia Bass, Kojo Appiah, Ryan Dearon, and Cory McGee. The orchestra includes Oberlin students Ryan McDonnell (violin), Molly Tucker (violin), and Ivan Aidun (bass), as well as alumna Rebecca Reed '11 (cello) and Assistant Dean for Academic Support Chris Jenkins (viola).
Kudos to Benjamin Tindal ’16, who conceived and directed the play Goodnight, Tyler, which I saw in the Little Theater at Hall Auditorium. Kudos also to the play’s cast and crew. It was a compelling and original production exploring competing narratives about the life of a young black man killed by a police officer.
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