As most of you know by now, classes and all nonessential activities were suspended Monday throughout campus, in both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music, prompted by our students’ concerns and leadership.
It was not a day off. In keeping with Oberlin’s ethos of teaching, learning, and hard work, our students, faculty, and staff participated in a series of public events where community members gathered to show solidarity, to listen, to learn, to teach, and to share their thoughts and feelings about the recent racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic incidents. Suspension of classes also set off what was—by Oberlin standards—a media frenzy. Most major newspapers and television news outlets in the United States, as well as the BBC World Service and The Guardian in Britain, covered the suspension of classes, the events which triggered it, and our ongoing investigation with varying degrees of accuracy.
I want to offer many, many thanks to the many diverse groups and individuals who organized Monday’s events. Pulling the teach-in, the rally, and the convocation in Finney Chapel together on such short notice was a monumental task. Special thanks go to the students, faculty, and staff in the Africana Studies department and the residents of Afrikan Heritage House for organizing the teach-in and contributing so much to the other events. I also want to thank Oberlin’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni for their public and private messages of support for this great college and conservatory.
Please know that investigating these incidents has been our highest priority since they began. Oberlin College Safety and Security continues to work with law enforcement officials. We are also enlisting external sources of expertise to aid us in investigating these incidents. If anyone knows anything that might be relevant to the investigation—anything at all—please contact Dean of Students Eric Estes or Director of Safety and Security Marjorie Burton.
To maintain the fairness of the ongoing internal judicial processes and to protect the privacy rights of everyone involved, we cannot disclose details of our investigation. Because we are an institution of higher education receiving federal funds, Oberlin College must comply with federal law. So we cannot at this time confirm statements law enforcement officials have made regarding the status of the ongoing investigation. Be assured that as soon as it is possible to provide more details while respecting the law, I will do so.
As always, the safety of our community is our foremost concern. To help ensure the safety of our students, faculty, staff, campus visitors, and fellow Oberlin citizens, we have increased Safety and Security’s patrols and presence in key campus locations, and increased the presence of the Oberlin Police Department on campus.
From what we have seen, I believe these actions appear to represent the work of a very small number of very cowardly people. These incidents have deeply disturbed me, and I have been subjected to some of this hatred on the Internet. It is crucially important, however, that we pursue the investigation the right way. Balancing our community’s need to know, and that of the public, with the need for a fair process is difficult, especially when emotions are running high.
Monday’s events were very emotional. But the lectures, discussions, and conversations were a powerful educational exercise. The conversations were sometimes difficult but for the most part they were respectful. To me, that is what Oberlin is all about. We pride ourselves on having difficult conversations about race, religion, gender, and sexual identity. That is our heritage, and one of the dynamic forces in our community’s contemporary life.
It was a long, intense day for all involved. Finney Chapel, Afrikan Heritage House, and the other venues were packed. I appreciated hearing the concerns of the student and faculty panelists, as well as those students raised in the question-and-answer session. Our faculty and staff look forward to working together with our students to address their concerns regarding inclusion, the teaching of cultural diversity, and campus safety.
The tremendous outpouring of support for our community’s core values of inclusion, diversity, and the commitment to learn from our differences was heartening. Our students, faculty, and staff showed the world that we stand united against acts of bias and hatred. With their words, their music, their art, and their actions, they demonstrated—as only Oberlin can—how strongly we are committed to mutual respect and to honest discussions based on honoring the worth and integrity of every person.
We remain steadfast in our belief that teaching, learning and love will triumph over bigotry and ignorance. There is still much work to be done. But Monday’s events were a great beginning. As generations of Obies have before us, we will continue working to build an even better Oberlin.