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No music today at Oberlin…. can someone figure out what’s going on?

Here’s what we have been sent. It looks like a considerable over-reaction.

Classes Canceled: Monday, March 4, 2013


one hour, eight minutes ago

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.

We hope today will allow the entire community—students, faculty, and staff—to make a strong statement about the values that we cherish here at Oberlin: inclusion, respect for others, and a strong and abiding faith in the worth of every individual. Indeed, the strength of Oberlin comes from our belief that diversity and openness enriches us all, and enhances the educational mission at its core.

We ask that all students, faculty and staff participate in the events planned for today:

12PM | Lord Lounge, Afrikan Heritage House
Teach-in led by Africana Studies Department

2PM | Wilder Bowl
Demonstration of solidarity

3:30PM | Finney Chapel
Community convocation: “We Stand Together” (previously scheduled for Wednesday 3/6 at 12PM)

When faced with difficult situations, Oberlin has consistently met the challenges and affirmed its commitment to the highest quality of education and the noblest aspirations of its community members. We believe that today’s events—and our ongoing work and discussions—will strengthen Oberlin and will strengthen us all.

Marvin Krislov, President
Sean Decatur, Dean, Arts & Sciences
David Stull, Dean, Conservatory of Music
Eric Estes, Dean of Students


UPDATE: And here’s the New York Times followup, six hours later.

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  1. There has been an ongoing series of hate-speech incidents at Oberlin this school year. Graffiti, targeted personal attacks, etc. This latest incident appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the administration is attempting to take a stand. If it makes students feel safer on a campus that has always been at the forefront of America’s various struggles for justice and equality, it’s not an overreaction at all.

  2. It may well be an overreaction, but with the way things have been in the US lately, they’re right to err on the side of over-caution.

  3. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    It sounds like a reasoned response to a potentially unpleasant, even dangerous situation on a small campus (c.2800) noted for tolerance and free speech. The current President of Oberlin has a long-standing commitment to promoting fairness and equality at the post-secondary level. A very large percentage of the students are music majors in the Conservatory. I admire the leadership shown here.

  4. Why would this be an overreaction? A strong one, sure, but there have been several bizarre hate-speech incidents this year, and coming out strong against that can’t be a bad way to go, can it?

    • I spoke with a friend who is currently a student there, and she assured me that it most definitely is *not* an over-reaction. As Michael points out, there has been a recent wave of antisemitic, homophobic, and racist incidents.

  5. Greg Hlatky says:

    One doesn’t want to draw premature conclusions one way or another, but that enough of these sorts of things turn out later to be hoaxes (for example, the Duke Rape Case, the UW-Parkside and Columbia University noose incidents) that I’m skeptical right from the git-go.

    Indeed given the college administration’s reaction, a not-implausible scenario can be drafted:

    1) Alleged incident occurs.
    2) Teach-ins and rallies, including accusations and two-minutes hate directed against ideologically unsympathetic groups.
    3) Mandatory race/gender/orientation sensitivity training, principally directed at the “wrong” sort of student.
    4) Implementation of draconian speech codes by the administration.
    5) Incident is found to be a hoax.
    6) Perpetrator confesses, says it was done to “raise awareness.”
    7) New policies remain in place.

    Sort of like the Kirov assassination writ small.

  6. Greg Hlatky says:

    “Lt Mike McCloskey of Oberlin police told the Guardian on Monday that officers were still following up the KKK sighting, but suggested that the only witness may have been mistaken.

    “‘Officers checked the area and were unable to locate anybody. College security later saw a student wrapped in a blanket.”

    “McCloskey suggested that the apparent missighting may have been an innocent mistake. He also indicated that those responsible for the racist vandalism had now been caught and were being dealt with.

    “‘My understanding is that the individuals are college students and they have been identified. They are no longer on campus. The college is dealing with it internally, and we have been working in co-operation with the college.”

    “He added: ‘Charges could be happening, depending on prosecutors’ review. Our case file has been forwarded to prosecutors.’

    “Two students are thought to be behind the vandalism, but it is unclear if they were motivated by racial hatred, or – as has been suggested – were attempting a commentary on free speech.”

  7. For those non-Americans who might not know this, beyond having a music conservatory Oberlin is renowned (and reviled by some) as one of the most liberal campuses in America, the kind of place where transgendered students have their own bathrooms and the administration and faculty goes out of its way to demonstrate inclusiveness, acceptance, and diversity. Students go there because these are the values they want to live by. So, when incidents like this happen, it’s especially provocative and the school is more inclined to go all-out in response.

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