Is social justice war coming home to roost at Oberlin, as it did at Mizzou and Evergreen State?
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.
The Great Oberlin Racism Hoax of 2013
We have been covering Oberlin since March 2013, when the campus was turned upside down by a racism hoax. Racist and anti-Semitic flyers and graffiti appeared on campus leading to cancellation of classes, campus-wide meetings, and an atmosphere of paranoia. Students started seeing racist imagery that may not even have existed, as we reported in Klan sighting at Oberlin likely just woman wrapped in a blanket.
Something didn’t seem right about the reports, as if there were a deliberate false narrative being created. The Oberlin administration was suspiciously protective of information about what happened and who did it, as we explored in the post Oberlin pretty good at keeping secret the identities and motives of perps
It turned out that this all was a hoax. The main perpetrator was a liberal student who wanted to get a reaction from the campus, The Great Oberlin College Racism Hoax of 2013:
A massive racism hoax took place at Oberlin College in February 2013 in which two students made seemingly racist, anti-Semitic and other such posters, graffiti and emails for the purpose of getting a reaction on campus, not because they believed the hostile messages. At least one of the two was an Obama supporter with strong progressive, anti-racist politics.
School officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real. National media attention focused on campus racism at Oberlin for weeks without knowing it was a hoax.
The hoax was confirmed when Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller recently obtained police records. Now it’s out in the open….
The enormity of the hoax cannot be overstated, and it could not have taken place without the cover up by the Oberlin administration. Had Oberlin’s President gone on television or issued a statement that the acts were a hoax, the campus and media would not have devoted weeks to portraying Oberlin as having a racism problem.
The Oberlin administration has a lot of answering to do to the community, the nation, and to Oberlin alumni. How must those alumni feel to see their school smeared based on a hoax. Will Lena Dunham now tweet about it? Will CNN cover the hoax aspect as deeply as it did the incidents? Will Melissa Harris-Perry talk about the role of racist hoaxes in creating a false narrative of racism?
To make matters worse, the Oberlin administration, urged on by faculty and radical students, used the hoax as an opportunity to double-down on social justice and racial dogma, Oberlin racism hoax exploited to advance “even more extreme policies”:
A student contacted me to alert me to how the campus turmoil was exploited to encourage and then implement aggressive multicultural and left-wing agenda items:
I’d like to personally thank you for your coverage of the Oberlin hate hoax. Many students… have been following your site and are glad that somebody is helping to get the word out about the Oberlin administration’s response.
The Daily Caller story just grazes the surface of what really happened. The administration didn’t just allow students to live in fear, they actually used that fear to get students to push for even more extreme policies on campus. Many students formed into “working groups” to propose solutions for “institutional change”, nearly all of which have been approved by the administration and are being enacted.
In that post I detailed how the “working groups” turned on parts of the campus not deemed sufficiently woke (to use a more recent term):
The Natural Sciences Department was singled out as particularly in need of change:
We are disappointed by the Natural Science division’s general lack of response to recent hate-based incidents. Physical isolation and racial homogeneity of the Natural Sciences result in an inaccessible community with a limited relationship to other academic departments. Every academic discipline has equal opportunity to identify truths; we must employ this framework to dismantle academic hierarchies.
Among the key agenda items was mandatory “re-orientation” workshops for students, faculty and staff led by paid student trainers:
In considering potential trainings and workshops, the largest of the working groups narrowed their focus into three main topics: new students and First-Years; continuing privilege and oppression education, or, “re-orientation”; and mandatory training for faculty and staff. Student leadership and facilitation are central to the success of these programs, so we would require a sustainable training system and compensation for these students.
The Great Racism Hoax of 2013 was the result of years of campus racial and radical agitation, and it was exploited to further poison the campus atmosphere. Rather than confronting that oppressive “social justice” atmosphere, the Oberlin administration blamed the people who exposed it, Oberlin College blames the blogosphere.
Radical Feminism Gone Wild
That oppressive atmosphere led to other incidents, such as the protests against Christina Hoff Sommers speaking on campus, Oberlin Radical Feminists Freak Out at Christina Hoff Sommers:
In the Oberlin Review radical feminists responded to Sommers’ upcoming speech with an OpEd, “A Love Letter to Themselves.” In this love letter, they accuse Sommers of being a “rape denialist” and proceeded to list her “offenses” to feminism.
The letter concluded:
So let’s engage in some radical, beautiful community care, support and love. Let’s make space for everyone to engage at whichever level they want/need. Let’s come through for each other, both now and in the future. Trauma is an experience that threatens a person’s bodily, spiritual and emotional integrity. The psychological, emotional and somatic impacts extend beyond the experience of trauma. Healing is a process that looks different for each person. Let’s make space to care for all experiences of trauma and to respect those we care for. Let’s focus our energy on taking care of each other and ourselves. Let’s make her talk irrelevant in the face of our love, passion and power.
Fascinating time at Oberlin. Police escorts.Huge crowd. Protest signs. Dozens of women in audience taped their mouths shut with red tape.
— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) April 21, 2015
Oberlin was openly mocked for the protests, including in this video that has over 100,000 YouTube views:
Social Justice Self-Parody
It’s sometimes hard to know whether social justice activism at Oberlin is real, or self-parody. In December 2014, Oberlin students were much mocked for demanding that grades below “C” be prohibited, since students spent so much time protesting injustice:
Oberlin College has refused to suspend failing grades this semester despite requests for relief from students who skipped classes and missed study time to protest recent deaths at the hands of police across the nation.
A student petition, signed by more than 1,300, called for the college to institute a “no-fail mercy period” that would eliminate all failing grades and make a C the lowest possible grade a student could receive, the student newspaper reported.
President Marvin Krislov responded with an email to students on Sunday, saying he and the college’s deans opted not to grant the reprieve after giving the request serious consideration.
“We are in firm agreement that suspending grading protocols is not the way to achieve our shared goal of ensuring that students have every opportunity and resource to succeed,” he wrote.
Oberlin received another public relations hit in late 2015 with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests by the Black Student Union over the quality of food in the Afrikan Heritage House, as well as claims of cultural appropriation by the dining service. The NY Times covered the story, Oberlin Students Take Culture War to the Dining Hall:
The students at the college in Oberlin, Ohio, are accusing the campus dining department and Bon Appétit Management Company, the main dining vendor, of a litany of offenses that range from cultural appropriation to cultural insensitivity.
Earlier this month, students with the school’s black student union protested outside of the dining hall at the Afrikan Heritage House, after demands for more traditional meals, including more fried chicken, went unmet, according to the campus paper, The Oberlin Review.
“I would like to see Bon Appétit fired and replaced by something other than an international corporation,” a student, Kendra Farrakhan, wrote to the paper. “I would like to see the chefs have the respect and autonomy to cook the food they love.
Another article, published by The Review in November, detailed what students said were instances of cultural appropriation carried out by Bon Appétit. The culinary culprits included a soggy, pulled-pork-and-coleslaw sandwich that tried to pass itself off as a traditional Vietnamese banh mi sandwich; a Chinese General Tso’s chicken dish made with steamed instead of fried poultry; and some poorly prepared Japanese sushi.
You can’t make this up.
14-Page Demand List
In December 2015, student activists also issued an outlandish list of demands, including being paid for protesting, that generated national media coverage. But the demand list was much more pernicious, as we documented in Oberlin College students circulate 14-page Demand List:
A student tipped us off that starting last night students began circulating and signing a 14-page list of 50 separate demands, in the name of the Black Students Union (BSU). Here is the opening paragraph:
Oberlin College and Conservatory is an unethical institution. From capitalizing on massive labor exploitation across campus, to the Conservatory of Music treating Black and other students of color as less than through its everyday running, Oberlin College unapologetically acts as unethical institution, antithetical to its historical vision. In the 1830s, this school claimed a legacy of supporting its Black students. However, that legacy has amounted to nothing more than a public relations campaign initiated to benefit the image of the institution and not the Africana people it was set out for. Along the same lines stated by UNC Chapel Hill students in their 2015 document “A Collective Response to AntiBlackness,” you include Black and other students of color in the institution and mark them with the words “equity, inclusion and diversity,” when in fact this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy. Oberlin College and Conservatory uses the limited number of Black and Brown students to color in its brochures, but then erases us from student life on this campus. You profit off of our accomplishments and invisible labor, yet You expect us to produce personal solutions to institutional incompetencies. We as a College defined “high risk,” “low income,” “disadvantaged” community should not have to carry the burden of deconstructing the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system that we took no part in creating, yet is so deeply embedded in the soil upon which this institution was built.
The demands included tenure guarantees for non-white faculty, including Joy Karega. Ominously, the student activists also implemented the intersectionality approach, turning the campus movement against Israel:
We DEMAND that Oberlin College stop functioning as a gentrifying institution by:
● The immediate rehiring of community members who worked at the Oberlin Inn before its renovation, accompanied with a Professional Development Day to train them on the updated work skills needed to successfully navigate their job responsibilities.
● The immediate discontinuation of the No Trespass List, because it disproportionately and discriminatorily targets Black people from the town of Oberlin.
● The immediate implementation of a free bussing system for Oberlin Elementary, Middle & High School students, paid for by the College.
● The immediate divestment from Israel, who has exploited many African descendant peoples seeking refuge. Furthermore, because the oppressive and violent acts towards Palestinians mirrors the anti Blackness
currently in the United States.
● The implementation of a program allowing willing community members to take one course per semester at Oberlin College for FREE.
● The immediate establishment of a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program by the College that is approved by the City of Oberlin.
Black Lives Matter and BDS Create Toxic Environment
The Oberlin administration rejected the list of demands, but the atmopshere on campus was further poisoned, with vile anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism added to the prior racial tension.
This toxic atmosphere broke into the open when it was revealed that a “social justice writing” professor, Joy Karega, had been posting openly anti-Semitic memes and posts on Facebook.
Karega, no surprise, also was a supporter of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Oberlin anti-Semitic rant Prof hosting BDS event this week.
The Oberlin trustees and faculty condemned Karega’s posts, but the Black Lives Matter and anti-Israel activists on campus united behind her. Karega was removed from teaching, and eventually fired, but not before intense national focus on Oberlin.
The BDS movement at Oberlin manipulated and exploited national and campus racial tension to create a toxic atmosphere for Israel supporters and Jews. In the spring of 2013, soon after the racism hoax, the Oberlin student government became one of the first to pass an anti-Israel divestment resolution brought by Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine. (The Board of Trustees later rejected the resolution.)
The situation on campus was so hostile to the Jewish students who support Israel that an alumni group complained to the Oberlin administration, Oberlin College Alums: Anti-Israel fanaticism creating hostile environment for Jews.
An Open Letter from over 200 alumni asserted, among other things:
Throughout the past few years, the movement to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel (BDS) has become increasingly active on American college campuses, and Oberlin has become the site of highly visible BDS activism. Several student organizations at Oberlin have assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement, which claims to be a defender of Palestinian rights, but whose inflammatory language falsely portraying Israel as an illegitimate, colonialist and murderous regime demonstrates that its primary goal is to demonize the Jewish state. Because participation in these groups requires denouncing Israel, the message to Jewish students can be summed up as follows: Either forfeit your allegiance to Israel and join us, or we will brand you as an enemy of justice and complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.
As Oberlin students and alumni representing a diversity of views on Israel, we accept criticism of its leadership and policies. However, we do not believe Israel should be singled out for condemnation and we object to questioning its right to exist. We also abhor the tactics of Oberlin’s pro-BDS student organizations that intimidate, threaten, and coerce Jewish students, which we have seen and heard in numerous written and spoken reports.
The reaction from the Oberlin student government to condemn the alumni for complaining about anti-Semitism and about Karega, Oberlin Student Senate condemns Alumni group for complaining too much about campus anti-Semitism.
Town/Gown Split Over Shoplifting At Bakery
Student activism again gained national attention when a local business was targeted, Bakery targeted by Oberlin College #BlackLivesMatter fights back
The Oberlin student government, administration, and various student groups leaped to back the boycott and support the protests, Oberlin College halted purchases from Gibson’s Bakery targeted by #BlackLivesMatter, but may reconsider.
Gibson’s Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio, has been in business since 1885.
It sells a variety of baked goods along with wine and other foods.
On November 9, 2016, Gibson’s employees noticed what they thought was a person shoplifting two bottles of wine hidden in his jacket. That alleged shoplifter was a black Oberlin College student. When they attempted to stop and photograph him, they were attacked by several other people accompanying the student.
The police were called. The Oberlin town police department has posted the Incident Reportonline, reflecting the arrest of the alleged shoplifter and two others involved in the scuffle….
What could have been a simple shoplifting incident and arrest created a firestorm when Oberlin College students, including the Black Student Union, Student Senate and College Democrats, alleged racial profiling and launched a boycott of Gibson’s. Protests were launched outside the bakery ….
The community backed the bakery by launching a buy-cott.
All three students involved recently pleaded guilty:
Three Oberlin College students who had been locked in a legal battle with Allyn and David Gibson of Gibson’s Bakery and Food Market since November 2016 reached a plea deal with Elyria prosecutors Aug. 14. All three students, junior Elijah Aladin and sophomores Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, pleaded guilty at the trial and received misdemeanor charges and a fine.
Aladin pleaded guilty to attempted theft, aggravated trespassing, and underage purchase of alcohol. Lawrence and Whettstone each pleaded guilty to attempted theft and aggravated trespassing….
The trio, represented throughout the case by a lawyer paid for anonymously by an alumus of the College, was sentenced to incarceration. Aladin was initially sentenced to 300 days, while Lawrence and Whettstone were to serve 270 days each.
The sentences were suspended in the final plea deal, however, which came with the condition of one year of good behavior, a fine, and an allocution by the students. The students must pay a restitution of $334 each to Allyn Gibson to cover his medical insurance deductible and pay off any remaining court costs, which have amounted to around $540 each.
The allocution read during the final hearing released the Gibson’s employees of any wrongdoing.
“I believe the employees of Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated,” the students read. “They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale.”
Social Justice Chickens Coming Home to Roost? Enrollment Drops
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.
Even liberal stalwart The New Yorker, in a May 2016 article by Nathan Heller, wondered what was going on at Oberlin, The Big Uneasy – What’s roiling the liberal-arts campus?
Heller summarized the impact the intense campus social justice activism had on students, leading many to want to leave:
But at Oberlin a number of students seem to want to run away. More than a few have told me that they are leaving Oberlin, or about to leave Oberlin, or thinking about leaving Oberlin—and this at one of the country’s most resource-rich, student-focussed schools…. A number of them, especially less privileged students speak of higher education as a con sold to them on phony premises.
Many also speak of urges to leave due to a fraying in their mental health, a personal price paid for the systemic stresses of campus life.
At U. Missouri and Evergreen State College, similar high-profile social justice activism damaged enrollment. Not surprisingly a hostile environment turned off non-radical student prospects.
That may be happening at Oberlin.
According to a report in the Oberlin Review, the student newspaper, Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall:
Oberlin College is looking at a $5 million deficit heading into the 2017–18 academic year due to an unexpected drop in admissions. This not only strains budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, but also points toward a much larger budgetary issue that has been brewing under the surface for years.
Newly-elected Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Canavan, OC ’84, announced the news in an email to faculty and staff June 14. The email, leaked to the Review by anonymous sources, was sent just a few weeks before Canavan officially took office, replacing six-year board member Clyde McGregor, OC ’74.
“Although we had already reduced budgets across the institution for next year, this shortfall in student charges will generate a deficit of about $5 million,” said Canavan in the email.
Because of the deficit, the board chose to hold all non-union salaries at their previous level unless otherwise stipulated by a contract, including faculty member salaries, for the second year in a row….
As over 80 percent of Oberlin’s operating budget comes directly from admissions and student charges, this year’s lower admissions rate, in both the returning number of students and incoming new students, is the primary reason for this year’s deficit.
This academic year’s target number for incoming first-year students was 805; the number met was 742. This semester’s total enrollment was 2,815 students, while the conservative target was set at 2,895 students.
Newly appointed Vice President and Dean of Admissions Manuel Carballo says that his office is working closely with students and offices across campus to try to increase Oberlin’s admission and retention rates.
“A lot of these questions came before I showed up, but certainly I think one of my important roles will be looking back to see where numbers have been versus how those project looking forward,” Carballo said. “When we talk about issues of numbers, we are looking at the numbers of students coming into the freshman class and transfers, but also in terms of retention, and numbers of returning students. That can be students studying abroad, students transferring, and students not returning to Oberlin.”
The Letter is here.
While a general higher ed bubble, particularly for small liberal arts colleges, may be contributing to the decline, it’s hard to believe that Oberlin’s recent history of turmoil isn’t a contributing factor.
When given the choice of similar colleges, it would be logical for prospective students to stay away from the ones that are constantly generating negative headlines and appear to be bastions of radicalism.
Are the social justice chickens finally coming home to roost at Oberlin?
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