It has been over two months since a series of racist, sexist and homophobic slurs were found written on the campus of Oberlin College.
When a student reported seeing someone in a Klan outfit — a sighting which likely was a woman walking wrapped in a blanket — the Oberlin administration cancelled classes for a day and media interest skyrocketed.
The Oberlin town police and Oberlin administration were pretty tight lipped as to details as to who was behind the incidents or the motivation and whether it was a hoax. There were reports of two students under investigation, but no other details.
There has been almost nothing new written about the investigation since early March, other than that the F.B.I. was requested to investigate.
Given how much attention the matter generated in the media and on campus, I found it strange that the matter and investigation dropped so quickly from the public eye, so I followed up.
I spoke Thursday with Lt. Mike McCloskey of the Oberlin town Police. Lt. McCloskey told me that two white male students were identified as the suspects and that the case file was handed over to prosecutors at the Office of Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will for a decision whether to prosecute. The prosecutors office did not return my call.
Lt. McCloskey declined to identify the students since they were “not officially charged suspects.” Lt. McCloskey did say that while he couldn’t be certain whether they were suspected of being behind all the incidents, they were suspected of being behind the “majority of incidents” on campus.
Scott Wargo, head of media relations for Oberlin College, emailed the following in response to my inquiries:
The college’s investigation into the bias incidents led to the identification of two students who may be responsible. Both have been removed from campus.
Wargo declined to comment on the status of the prosecution or what steps Oberlin had taken other than removal from campus, or as to the gender and race of the suspects, citing educational privacy:
I can’t speak to what the prosecutor’s office may or may not be doing. To your second question, I am not permitted to disclose information pertaining to any student’s education records.
As of this writing Wargo has not responded to a follow up email as to the college’s position on whether the acts were motivated by racism or were a hoax to create the appearance of racism.
We still don’t know who the students are, but people on campus must know. I reached out to the editors of the Oberlin student newspaper, The Oberlin Review, for comment but received no response.
Their motivations are unknown — were these hate crimes or actions by people trying to create the appearance of hate crimes in order to create the controversy?
The recent incident in which a University of Wyoming female student created a fake rape threat in order to advocate against sexual violence demonstrates how hate crimes on campus always require investigation beyond the obvious. Hate crime hoaxes are all too common.
Were the Oberlin incidents actual racism or a hoax meant to create a controversy regarding racism? Unfortunately, that question remains unanswered based on what police and college authorities are willing to say. I hope they will be more forthcoming soon.