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May 26 2016

Oberlin: The College Where You Spend $63,000 a Year to Feel Oppressed

Charlotte Allen

There's crazy--and there's Oberlin crazy.

New Yorker staff writer Nathan Heller reports on the scene at the $63,000-a-year liberal-arts college in Ohio:

The flourishing life of the mind:

"Because I’m dealing with having been arrested on campus, or having to deal with the things that my family are going through because of larger systems—having to deal with all of that, I can’t produce the work that they want me to do. But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways. There’s professors who have openly been, like, ‘Yeah, instead of, you know, writing out this midterm, come in to my office hours, and you can just speak it,’ right? But that’s not institutionalized. I have to find that professor.”

The rigorous academic standards:

Protest surged again in the fall of 2014, after the killing of Tamir Rice. “A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting. But we needed to organize on campus as well—it wasn’t sustainable to keep driving forty minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically.” In 1970, Oberlin had modified its grading standards to accommodate activism around the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings, and Bautista had hoped for something similar. More than thirteen hundred students signed a petition calling for the college to eliminate any grade lower than a C for the semester, but to no avail. “Students felt really unsupported in their endeavors to engage with the world outside Oberlin,” she told me.

The effort to expose young people to the great classics of Western civilization:

[A] student wanted trigger warnings on “Antigone.”

The ethnically eclectic menus at the campus dining facilities:

[S]tudents had noted the inauthenticity of food at the school’s Afrikan Heritage House, and followed up with an on-site protest. (Some international students, meanwhile, complained that cafeteria dishes such as sushi and bánh mì were prepared with the wrong ingredients, making a mockery of cultural cuisine.)

The respect for religious minorities:

On February 25th, TheTower.org published an article that included screenshots from the Facebook feed of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin. The posts suggested, among other things, that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that ISIS was a puppet of Mossad and the C.I.A., and that the Rothschild family owned “your news, the media, your oil, and your government.”

The celebration of the world's many cultures:

For years, a campus café and performance space called the Cat in the Cream had a music-themed mural, painted by an alumnus, that celebrated multiculturalism: it featured a turbanned snake charmer, a black man playing a saxophone, and so on. Students recently raised concerns that the mural was exoticizing. “We ended up putting drywall over it, and painting over that,” Robert Bonfiglio, who had been the chair of the Student Union Board, told me. “They were saying, ‘Students are being harmed. Just do something now.’ ”

The live-and-let-live tolerance:

Aaron Pressman, a politics and law-and-society major, told me that he has always felt free to express his opinions on campus, but has faced “a lot of social backlash.” One of his ambitions is to become a public defender, and he has studied the free-speech work of the A.C.L.U. Last year, when he noticed a broadly worded clause about flirtatious speech in Oberlin’s new sexual-harassment policy, he advocated for more precise language. (His research told him that such broad prohibitions were often used to target ethnic groups.) “A student came up to me several days later and started screaming at me, saying I’m not allowed to have this opinion, because I’m a white cisgender male,” Pressman recalled.

The willingness of students to befriend and communicate with classmates from a range of different backgrounds:

...Kozol noticed something alarming: the students had started seating themselves by race. Those of color had difficulty with anything that white students had to say; they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Kozol took over the class for the spring, and, she told me, “it played out through identity politics.” The class was supposed to be a research workshop. But students went cold when they had to engage with anyone outside their community.

The celebration of the Oberlin's progressive and inclusive atmosphere as one of the first elite colleges in America to admit blacks and women:

In mid-December, a group of black students wrote a fourteen-page letter to the school’s board and president outlining fifty nonnegotiable demands for changes in Oberlin’s admissions and personnel policies, academic offerings, and the like. “You include Black and other students of color in the institution and mark them with the words ‘equity, inclusion and diversity,’ ” it said, “when in fact this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.”...

There were negative responses to the fifty demands (which included a request for an $8.20-an-hour activism wage, the firing of nine Oberlin employees deemed insufficiently supportive of black students, and the tenuring of black faculty).

The home page on Oberlin's website declares the following:

Oberlin is the ideal laboratory in which to
study and design the world we want.

A really crazy world.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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