A defining characteristic of an Oberlin education is our active engagement in efforts to make our community and world more socially just and better places for all. This work takes place in classes where we study history that provides important context for some of the most difficult social justice issues of our time. It also goes on in a wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular events and activities.
It’s heartening to see our students, faculty, and staff engaging with complex issues such as international and national politics, inequality, immigration, racism, sexism, and hunger. As they do every academic year, discussions of these and other social justice issues are happening on our campus and in our town and region. They also part of the broader discussion of these issues in this country.
Let me offer just a modest sample of what this aspect of an Oberlin education looks like in action. In April alone, programs sponsored by student groups, academic departments, and administrative offices include a faculty-led discussion on anti-Semitism organized by Jewish Studies and Religion, and the 19th biennial Midwest Asian American Student Conference (MAASC), hosted by Oberlin’s Asian American students.
The MAASC conference started 38 years ago before many in our community were born. A current member of the Board of Trustees was a member of the planning group for one of the first conferences. Another current trustee was a founding member of the Asian American Alliance. The conference and the alliance they worked so hard to create has had a profound effect on the academic, intellectual, and political development of our community. This year’s conference included leading national scholar Martin Manalansan, who facilitated a workshop on food politics.
Also in April, in collaboration with the conservatory, Student Academic Services’ First in the Family Series brought back alums Michael ’01 and LeTicia Preacely ’03, who talked about navigating Oberlin as first-generation students. The couple met and married at Oberlin in a ceremony presided over by Oberlin Associate Professor of Religion A.G. Miller.
Elsewhere on campus, Immigration Action Now Week continued to educate the community about the needs and concerns of undocumented students. And the annual Colors of Rhythm (CoR) performance, celebrating its 20th anniversary, continues to bring together student communities of color to celebrate dance forms that are less visible in the curriculum and on our campus. Proceeds from CoR ticket sales will help support efforts to endow a scholarship for undocumented students at Oberlin.
Over the past few days, the International Studies Concentration sponsored its first Global Issues Symposium on Climate Change Consequences. Looking ahead, students, faculty and staff are working with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to set up workshops on the history of anti-Semitism and how to combat it in daily life. Later in April there will be a panel on anti-Semitism that includes faculty, staff, and a representative of the ADL.
This is just a sample of the programs during one month at Oberlin. They represent the hard work of faculty, staff, and especially students to build and contribute to an academic and intellectual culture inside and outside of the classroom—a culture grounded in deep, meaningful inquiry into the big questions and concerns that define our history and shape our present.
I’m proud to say that in all these programs, students have agency. We are not spoon-feeding them ideology; we are responding to their concerns and their ideas for programming and education. We’re bringing faculty and students together to engage deeply with difficult and controversial questions, to inform themselves of the facts, to think analytically and critically, and to make up their own minds. This isn’t an easy process leading to simple answers. It’s a struggle. But it’s a struggle we embrace, a struggle that makes Oberlin a special college and conservatory.
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