Oberlin response to racial incidents produces positive student engagement

A series of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents across Oberlin College’s campus prompted the administration to cancel classes on Monday March 4. Though vandalism and harassment had been ongoing, a person allegedly spotted in an outfit resembling Ku Klux Klan robes on Monday morning ultimately pushed the administration to cancel classes, allowing faculty, staff and students to engage in conversation about the incidents. The suspension of classes was the appropriate course of action, as it allowed for a mature and comprehensive examination of the incidents. 

In the weeks prior to Monday’s class cancellation, there had been a major uptick in racist and homophobic graffiti around campus. The 15 reported incidents in the last month were especially shocking given Oberlin’s extremely progressive reputation. In response, the Oberlin staff and student body organized a “Day of Solidarity” on Monday, with convocations and demonstrations preaching tolerance.

Cancelling classes for the day brought the issue of intolerance to the forefront of campus affairs. Given the unprecedented number of incidents in the past few weeks, a thorough and meaningful assessment of the incidents was indeed necessary and justified. 

The fact that Oberlin’s administration deemed it necessary to cancel classes in light of the incident is a sign that the administration is taking appropriate steps to address the issue. A simple email to the student body detailing the incidents – the protocol for such incidents at many schools – would not have been sufficient. The fact that these hate-based events were repeated and frequent is evidence enough.

The students wanted to protest the terrible campus happenings, and the college gave the students the opportunity to do so. 

Incidents similar to those at Oberlin happen all too frequently at colleges across the country. Often, however, they are a mere afterthought.

Recently the Washington University in St. Louis administration suspended the school’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter following a racist incident involving the fraternity’s pledges. While the school’s response was swift and firm, it did nothing to involve the rest of the student body in a thorough conversation surrounding the events. 

While they may not always necessitate cancelling classes, they certainly deserve the level of thought and attention given at Oberlin. If racist incidents at colleges are to abate, there must be an engagement of the entire student body such as the one seen at Oberlin. It is conversations like these that encourage not only awareness, but also serious progress toward the fight against hate speech.