Oberlin College Establishes Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity in Response to National Distress

August 28, 2020

Office of Communications

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Photo credit: Office of Communications

OBERLIN, OHIO – President Carmen Twillie Ambar and Oberlin College announced today the launch of the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity in response to increasing injustice and racial tensions in America. The Presidential Initiative will elevate and advance Oberlin’s more than 180-year commitment to the education and rights of Blacks in America, and will provide the framework for faculty and students to address issues of violence, police-community relationships, and racial injustices. 

Shaun Harper , one of the nation’s foremost experts on racial culture on college campuses, will work with the commission to assess and improve Oberlin’s approach to campus diversity.

‘‘The work of dismantling the vestiges of white supremacy, anti-Black policies, and gender inequality has long been embedded in the promise of Oberlin College,’’ Ambar wrote in her charge to the commission of 21 faculty, staff, and students from the college and the conservatory. ‘‘This work in the 21st century, however, looks different than it did in 1833.’’

The announcement follows a personal note Ambar wrote to the Oberlin community after the killing of George Floyd and reflects sentiments expressed across the country after the recent shooting of Jacob Blake. 

‘‘At every turn it seems we are watching in anguish a world that views African Americans as less than human and unworthy of dignity,’’ she wrote. ‘‘The Black community—my community—is in excruciating pain. We are contending with what appears to be an unending well of racism and bigotry. We are witnessing an unraveling and a democracy that is now in search of its foundational societal norms. Hatred, anger, illness, and death fill our screens. There is grief at the abandonment of our ideals and a tearing of the heart as we see the impact on our children.’’

Meredith Gadsby, associate professor of Africana studies and comparative American studies, and Bill Quillen, dean of the conservatory, will cochair the commission, which will evaluate Oberlin’s programming in both the college and conservatory, review hiring, and examine divisional and departmental climates to identify methods to elevate Oberlin‘s commitment to equity.

‘‘Although this is an incredibly painful moment for Black people, people of color, and all people of conscience, I am energized by examples of generations of Black men and women who mobilized and continue to mobilize in struggle,’’ said Gadsby. ‘‘This energy propels me forward to engage in this important work with President Ambar, colleagues, and students.’’

‘‘Oberlin College and Conservatory are united in undertaking this critical mission to help improve and redefine education in America,’’ said William Quillen, dean of the conservatory. ‘‘It is imperative that we respond to these challenges with immediacy, for the sake of our students today and for the sake of future generations who deserve a world grounded in equity and an expanded, shared sense of belonging.’’

The commission‘s work will span the 2020-2021 academic year, with the expectation of both short-term and long-term strategic recommendations at year’s end. Their partnership with Harper and the USC Race and Equity Center will help guide the work, which will include quantitative and qualitative assessments of related efforts already under way at Oberlin and a climate assessment survey of the college and conservatory. The commission will lead the development of meaningful antiracism education and professional development for all members of the campus community, and will assess the viability, form, and structure of what a Center on Race and Equity could look like on Oberlin‘s campus.  

The commission will evaluate hiring policies and practices that ensure accountability in both the development of diverse applicant pools and the assessment of candidates, and will offer initiatives that more effectively launch Black students into graduate programs and professional pursuits after Oberlin.

President Ambar‘s charge requires that recommendations have both an internal and external framing, to ensure the institution can speak nationally and internally in a moment that is critical to both higher education and to the nation.  

‘‘There are national moments that call upon all of us to gather our energies and take hold of moral missions, and this is one of those moments,’’ Ambar said. ‘‘Once again, we should assess ourselves and the role we play in educating our students to go out into the world to act upon the change that we want to see manifested in it.‘‘

About Oberlin College and Conservatory

Ranked among the nation’s top liberal arts schools, Oberlin College and Conservatory is known for its exemplary academic and musical pedagogy and its commitment to social justice, sustainability, and creative entrepreneurship. The college, founded in 1833, holds a distinguished place among American colleges and universities as the first to grant bachelor's degrees to women in a coeducational environment and was a leader in the education of Black Americans. The Conservatory of Music, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, was founded in 1865, making it the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the United States. Oberlin Conservatory alumni enjoy illustrious careers in all aspects of the music world, achieving prominence as performers, conductors, composers, music educators, scholars, and arts administrators.


Scott Wargo
Director of Media Relations


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