“[W]e uncovered a sad truth: That the majority of shoplifting in Oberlin is carried out by students…. [because] students just felt like it” — Puts in context testimony that the college wanted a special procedure for student shoplifters and feared backing the bakery would “trigger” a negative student reaction.
We have covered Oberlin College at least since 2013, when we wrote extensively about The Great Oberlin College Racism Hoax of 2013.
Classes were cancelled in favor of campus-wide forums to address white supremacy and systemic racism after racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic flyers were posted around campus. The campus almost melted down when a student spotted someone walking at night in a Ku Klux Klan robe. It turned out not to be the Klan, but likely a student walking at night wrapped in a blanket for warmth.
Even the flyers turned out not to be what they seemed – it turned out they were placed around campus by a white liberal student who sought to start a conversation on campus. The entire 2013 racial meltdown was the result of a hoax, and those details were known by the college administration. But rather than address that reality, the administration used the controversy to agree to student demands for increased social justice indoctrination, including during freshman orientation.
The campus atmosphere turned Oberlin College “social justice” activism into self-parody. The black student union protested that the Africana House dining hall did not regularly serve fried chicken (seriously). Other students protested dining hall “cultural appropriation” of Asian food, noting as to the dining-hall version of General Tso’s Chicken, “[i]nstead of deep-fried chicken with ginger-garlic soy sauce, the chicken was steamed with a substitute sauce.” Once again, the administration sought to placate the activists, with the Director of Dining Services confessing that “we recently fell short in the execution of several dishes in a manner that was culturally insensitive.”
In December 2014, students led by the black student union issued a 14-point set of demands seeking to “deconstruct imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy” and to divest from Israel. The demands including hiring and promotion of faculty based on race. The inclusion of divesting from Israel was no happenstance, Oberlin had a particularly toxic form of “intersectional” activism, in which Israel was so relentlessly demonized as the center of intersecting systems of oppression that a coalition of alumni signed a statement demanding administration action. Though the administration did not heed the demands for (illegal) hiring and promotion based on race, little action was taken to change the campus climate.
So when the Gibson’s Bakery fiasco happened, it was not entirely surprising. What was surprising were some of the details that came out during the case that cast an even darker shadow on activism at Oberlin College.
There was something we covered during the trial, but which just jumped out at me as I was preparing a long Twitter thread excerpting our trial coverage:
Among our coverage was Daniel McGraw’s reporting on the Oberlin Police Department historical records on shoplifting arrests at Gibson’s Bakery. Those statistics shows that there was no disproportionate arrest of blacks:
But Dan pointed out something that was not part of the evidence at trial, but put the statistics in context. A 2017 article in the Oberlin Grape student publication about Oberlin College’s “Culture of Theft.”
Dan also reported how this theft culture influenced the decision making at the college with regard to Gibson’s, as related in the trial. College officials were concerned that backing Gibson’s over shoplifting could “trigger” a negative reaction from students, since the college was “trying to get students to realize that shoplifting was harmful.”
It’s truly astounding that a college would be afraid to support a local store that was the victim of shoplifting. It is deeply depressing that students did not already know that “shoplifting was harmful.”
The article referenced about Oberlin College’s Culture of Theft was written by an Oberlin College student, and was published in the Oberlin Grape on December 1, 2017, about a year after the Gibson’s Bakery incident and just after Gibson’s Bakery filed suit.
Here are some excerpts from The Culture of Theft:
… How Gibson would have reacted if the students were white or trans or not students at all is an important question, but ultimately a question we will never know the answer to. Something that we can understand a little better, however, is how big of an issue shoplifting is for business owners in Oberlin, and how it can impact town-gown relations….
The Grape set out to understand the nature and extent of this shoplifting issue …. To start, we uncovered a sad truth: That the majority of shoplifting in Oberlin is carried out by students….
To get a better idea about students’ role in shoplifting, The Grape anonymously interviewed students on the first floor of Mudd. We collected responses to the question ‘have you ever taken anything from a store downtown without paying for it?’. [After giving some examples or responses] This is a testament that came up a lot in these conversations: that students just felt like it.
[After giving more examples] The majority of students who admitted to shoplifting explained that the items stolen were mostly minor ones like candy, and most commonly, pens…. While these stories are anecdotal and don’t paint the full picture of shoplifting, one that may include theft-out-of-necessity, most of the thefts were out of convenience.
To these students, these are small items that couldn’t possibly make that much of a difference to a normal business. That is the justification we heard repeated — that shoplifting is just a normal cost of having a business….”
This culture of shoplifting puts in context the reaction of the Oberlin College administration that it was still trying to get students to understand that “shoplifting was harmful.”
But quivering in fear of student reaction was not the answer. Nor was trying to pressure Gibson’s Bakery to establish a special procedure for students caught shoplifting (the college denied this pressure, which David Gibson testified to):
Someone who saw my thread commented:
Thread. Chilling details on how broken the student body has become at Oberlin College. How on earth did students get this way?
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, it does not appear the Oberlin College administration is ready to confront its own role.
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