Let me begin by thanking Natasha Trethewey, poet laureate of the United States, for her wise, lyrical, and thought-provoking Convocation on Tuesday evening in Finney Chapel, which helped us commemorate the events of March 4, 2013.
On that day, Oberlin’s classes were suspended after a series of incidents that included racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic graffiti and fliers and threats of physical and sexual violence. Those actions caused distress and fear among our students, faculty, and staff, especially among the targeted groups and individuals.
Our community responded to these acts of hatred by coming together on March 4th to hold a Day of Solidarity teach-in. That day was organized by Oberlin’s Africana studies faculty and students from that department and other communities. The day featured a range of meetings for teaching, discussion, dialogue, and reflection. It culminated in a special convocation here in Finney Chapel that was moving and powerful.
Since that day, the students, faculty, and administration have been working to build on our shared commitment to diversity and inclusion at Oberlin. And Oberlinians from across the country and around the world have told me how proud they are that Oberlin’s people responded by coming together as a community and reaffirming our long-standing values of inclusion, respect for others, and abiding faith in the worth of every individual.
The teaching, discussions, and actions sparked by the Day of Solidarity continue. As has been the case for many years, battling racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and gender bias is an ongoing struggle on our campus and in our society.
But we are making progress. Think of what American life was like when Oberlin opened its doors in December 1833. Slavery was legal. Women couldn’t vote. There was no coeducation. Oberlin helped change those things.
The progress we’ve made as a college and a nation did not come easily. As we know, there is still much work to be done. But by working together we can and will change the world for the better as our Oberlin forebears did.
We see that determination in the educational and reflective community building efforts this week, which were created and led by our students. I extend my thanks to all the students who worked on those projects.
In Finney Chapel last night, you could see how three Oberlin students employed Oberlin’s values and their creativity to commemorate the Day of Solidarity and Natasha Trethewey’s visit.
Inspired by Ms. Trethewey’s poem “History Lesson,” which revolves around a photo of Ms. Tretheway taken by her grandmother on a recently desegregated beach in Mississippi in 1970, our students created a project called Oberlin History Lessons. The students—seniors Sarah Cheshire and Cuyler Otsuka and sophomore Lillian White—invited members of the Oberlin community to submit writings about personal experiences, along with photographs if possible, that evoked a sense of home to the writer.
Hundreds of students sent in photos and poems, prose, and captions. Kudos to Sarah, Lillian, and Cuyler for organizing this amazing project and foregoing sleep to get it installed. It is a vivid, fascinating testimonial to Oberlin’s people, our shared values, and our belief in the power of art, poetry, education, and hard work. It will be displayed at other venues on campus and I encourage everyone to see it.
Combating Cabin Fever
This has been an exceptionally harsh winter in Oberlin and much of the country. Here on campus, we’ve had more than our share of snow and frigid temperatures. The long, cold winter can weigh on our physical and mental health. So this a gentle reminder to take care of yourselves.
To combat cabin fever, get out and about. As you know Oberlin offers a plethora of activities, films, lectures, recitals, concerts, exhibitions, and sporting events. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and maintain your health. So get to Philips or Hales if you can. Or, weather permitting, take a brisk walk around Tappan Square. And if you feel like you just can’t shake the wintertime blues, please remember that Oberlin has a range of support services such as the counseling center, class deans, advisors, and mentors. Staying in touch with friends and family is also important. Last but not least, look out the window at 6 p.m. It’s still light out! The days are getting longer. Spring is on its way!
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