Campus News

Update on Trespass Policy Controversy

April 10, 2013

Eric Estes

Oberlin College’s trespass policy has come under scrutiny in recent months. During two forums held in February, several individuals who have received trespass notices—notification in writing that they are not permitted on Oberlin College property—spoke about not knowing what actions resulted in their notices and not knowing what means of recourse are available to them. Other people have voiced similar concerns in videos produced by the One Town Campaign, a group of Oberlin College students and alumni who say on the group’s website that their goal is to forge “respectful working relationships with community members from the town of Oberlin.”

College administrators have been doing a lot of listening and meeting with concerned members of One Town and the community. Clearly we have some work to do on this issue, and I want to make progress sooner rather than later.

While the forums and discussions have revealed a general consensus that a trespass policy is needed, college administrators who attended the forums agree that current policies, processes, and practices should be revised and made more transparent and visible.

In March, Tita Reed, special assistant to the president for community and government relations, and I met with One Town representative Tommie Jackson Smith; Tom Locke, chair of the city of Oberlin’s Human Relations Commission; and Oberlin College student Kevin Gilfether, who grew up in Oberlin. They provided helpful feedback and made important suggestions. Proposals that came out of that discussion, and which also are informed by the February forums, are:

Exploring alternatives for youths under the age of 18.
I have had the opportunity to meet several times with a group of community members who have been talking with the local police about youth issues and concerns. They approached me about an advocacy program as an alternative to trespass and I think that has real possibilities. I appreciate them approaching me and look forward to working on this possibility with them

Establishing automatic review of trespass notices for youths under the age of 18.
Kevin Gilfether made this suggestion in a recent letter to the Oberlin Review. It is still under discussion after what period of time— three months or six months, for example—review would happen, but college representatives are supportive of the idea.

Providing more information in notification letters about the reasons for issuing the trespass notice.

Revising the current trespass policy.
I welcome specific feedback on the policy itself from One Town or any member of the community. One specific revision that has been discussed is the process to request reconsideration of a trespass notice. Even though the current process works, it is problematic that a person requests reconsideration to the same office, safety and security, that issued the original notice. Everyone participating the March meeting agrees that a review group, probably of five, would be a better entry point for requests.

Allowing people to bring an advocate with them when they meet with safety and security staff.
Allowing people to bring an advocate with them will provide them with more support and make the process more transparent.

Special Assistant Reed and I hope also to work with special advisor Saul Green, a former U.S. Attorney and deputy mayor of the city of Detroit, to enhance professional development and training opportunities for administrators and safety and security officers.

My hope and expectation is that we can build on the momentum of this recent discussion, build some badly needed trust, and improve this situation. I'm very hopeful about the progress we can make together moving forward.

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