The Oberlin Review, the student newspaper at Oberlin College, took exception to a news report in The Washington Times, Enrollment drops at schools known for ‘social justice warfare’.

The Washington Times article included a quote from me:

Universities known for being hotbeds of campus protest and liberal activism are struggling with declining enrollments and budget shortfalls, and higher education analysts say that’s no coincidence.

Take Oberlin College. According to a document leaked to The Oberlin Review, the school’s student newspaper, the small liberal arts college famous for social justice hoaxes has had trouble attracting and retaining students, missing this year’s enrollment mark by 80 and racking up a $5 million budget deficit in the process.

William A. Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School who runs the Legal Insurrection blog, said the “most obvious culprit” in Oberlin’s dwindling admissions is “relentless social justice warfare.”

“Social justice warfare at Oberlin has been more intense and sustained over a longer period of time than at most schools, and has come to define Oberlin in the media,” Mr. Jacobson said. “The resulting mockery and derision, even in liberal publications, has damaged the Oberlin brand.”

Although it did not link back, The Washington Times article was prompted by my post, Radical fallout: Oberlin College enrollment drops, causing financial problems. In that post I cataloged the long history of Oberlin being mocked in national media, including liberal media, for social justice activism that at times bordered on self-parody:

At both the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College, an atmosphere of aggressive “Social Justice” activism damaged enrollment and contributed to financial difficulties.

Apparently, even liberal students don’t want to attend institutions where student and faculty social justice warriors have turned the campus into a battleground.

The same thing may be happening at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Oberlin long has been known as a liberal college where political correctness reigned supreme. But in recent years, the atmosphere frequently turned oppressive to the point of self-parody….

I haven’t attempted to catalog each and every bizarre social justice warfare incident at Oberlin, but rather, to document based on our own prior reporting how “social justice,” Black Lives Matter, anti-Israel and other progressive activism has dominated Oberlin’s public narrative for several years running.

The Oberlin Review Editorial Board, however, took exception to the portrayal of the school, particularly the use of the term “social justice warfare.” In a September 22, 2017 Editorial, the Editors write, Sensationalist Media Compromises Credibility for Click Bait:

In the past, the College has been a target for outside news sources that cherry-pick the Review’s pieces on topics ranging from the cultural appropriation of food in the dining halls to the contentious dismissal of former professor Joy Karega. Their goal is to malign the credibility of colleges like ours.

Last week, The Washington Times marked another chapter in the on-going manipulation of our reporting by twisting our story on Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Canavan’s email revealing the deficit and consequent declaration of financial cuts (“Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall,” Sept. 8, 2017) to argue that the College’s underenrollment results from a reputation fostered by its students.

The piece relied mainly on a sensationalist soundbite courtesy of William A. Jacobson, clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. He is quoted as saying that Oberlin’s drop in admissions is largely attributed to a phenomenon he calls “social justice warfare” — an evocative framing device, to be sure. Yet, to approach the climate of change sweeping campuses nationwide, words like “warfare” act only as agitative descriptors meant to fuel etic perceptions of student-initiated violence which simply does not exist.

The Editorial goes on to blame a vast right-wing conspiracy resulting from opposition to the “Antifa” movement. But in reality, national media mockery of Oberlin social justice activism long predates Antifa, as does the term “social justice warriors/warfare”:

The Washington Times’ rhetoric stems largely from recent right-wing condemnation of the rising, militant anti-fascist movement, known as “antifa,” and the consequent subjective conflation of antifa and liberal arts student activism. Conservative logic associates the two since there are overlaps in their social justice values. However, to suggest that the value of a liberal arts education itself should be pulled into question because students are employing their interdisciplinary education to speak out against the issues immediately impacting them is both inflammatory and harmful. By emboldening those who lampoon a multivariable education, The Washington Times reinforces and empowers that kind of thinking. That is the work of bias, a journalistic crime all-too-readily embraced for the sake of site traffic.

The Editors then fight an argument that no one is making, that student newspapers allegedly should not report on events:

Frankly, The Washington Times needs journalism like ours to survive; how can one twist stories if no one reports them in the first place? Such publications are parasitical, whiling away their fleeting lifetimes by leeching the reporting of better journalists in service of an agenda of agitation and bluster.

To the contrary, I’m glad that there are student newspapers like The Oberlin Review that make an effort to report on campus events. I also put The Cornell Sun in that category as well. These student newspapers provide valuable insight into what is happening on campuses.

And what is happening on campuses demonstrates why the terms “social justice warriors/warfare” are commonly used.

[Featured Image: Oberlin College protest over appearance of Christina Hoff Sommers][Image credit: Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute]


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