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We Are Oberlin…And Here’s Our Dirty Laundry

*TRIGGER WARNING: Racist and homophobic language*

By Kendra James

The Klu Klux Klan isn’t new to Ohio, but they were certainly a new addition to the Oberlin College Campus. At some time around midnight on Monday, March 4, a person dressed in Klan regalia was spotted on Oberlin College’s South Campus near the Afrikan-Heritage house and the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgendered People. Soon after the sighting–only the latest in a string of racist events on campus during the month of February–the college made the decision to cancel classes for the day.

Early this morning, there was a report of a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit between South and the Edmonia Lewis Center and in the vicinity of Afrikan Heritage House. This report is being investigated by both Safety and Security and the Oberlin Police Department. This event, in addition to the series of other hate-related incidents on campus, has precipitated our decision to suspend formal classes and all non-essential activities for today, Monday, March 4, 2013, and gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks.

As people slowly woke up on Monday, rumors about what had happened were already flying around Facebook and Tumblr. Oddly enough, I didn’t find out from a student or a fellow alum, but from a friend on Twitter who’d heard about it through her friend who’s a resident assistant. This was all before Gawker picked up the story later in the morning, along with a timeline of what’s been going on throughout the month.

Feb. 9: Vandalism in the Science Center included the replacement of “Black” with “N*gger” on Black History Month posters, drawings of swastikas, damage to the “Year of the Queer” posters and reported destruction of the Chinese calendar.

Feb. 12: LGBTQ Community Coordinator Lorena Espinoza found a note in the Multicultural Resource Center that read “N*gger + F*ggot Center.”

Feb. 16: Students found a number of offensive notes written around Burton Hall. “Whites Only” was written above a water fountain, “N*gger Oven” was written inside the elevator and “No N*ggers” was written on a bathroom door.

Feb. 17: The Office of Safety and Security released a Special Alert of a strong-arm robbery of a student near West College Street and Cedar Street. The student reported that he was approached by an individual who made a derogatory remark about his perceived ethnicity and then physically knocked him to the ground.

Feb. 26: Posters were defaced in [The King Building]  including those advertising “Year of the Queer” and the Affirmative Action panel, at least one of which had a swastika drawn on it.

Feb. 27: A swastika drawn onto the outside window of West Lecture Hall in the Science Center was seen being removed by custodial staff.

For a depressingly detailed account of Oberlin’s racial divide, one can also check out the Oberlin Microagressions Tumblr, which has a record of these events and more.

To put this all in context, let’s remember this is Oberlin College, the supposed bastion of liberal progressiveness. The first college in the country to educate both men and women together and equally (1841). The first college to accept African-American students (1835). The final stop on the Underground Railroad. The college of same sex dorms, dorm rooms and bathrooms, and the famed Drag Ball and Safer Sex Night. A college founded on “religious utopian principles” that boasts a Kosher-Halal food co-op. We read about the above behavior from larger universities like Duke and scoff and insist that it would never happen or be tolerated at Oberlin.

In 2009, a “Mexican Party” was thrown on campus where some attendees dressed as undocumented immigrants (whatever that entails) and drug dealers. During my senior year (‘09-’10), I was asked by a white girl one Saturday (in my own house, of all places) if my afro that day was in honor of the “Pimps and Hoes” party that evening. Both of these parties prompted campus-wide talks, solidarity meetings, discussions with the student senate and a forum or two. In 2011, someone spray painted “n*ggerf*ggot” on a dorm wall, and earlier this year, I saw a few posts on Facebook and Tumblr about someone scrawling “n*gger” on posters (different from the documented incidents above) along with a call to action, but there didn’t seem to be an overwhelming outpouring of student anger or responsiveness from the administration. In the end, incidents like these seemed to always blow over.

These actions may not be tolerated, but they certainly happen. It was happening when I was a student at Oberlin, and it’s happening now. What’s changed this time–I hope for the better–is the response.

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