The attack last Sunday on History Professor Gary Kornblith was bizarre and virtually unprecedented. A professor being mugged by what looked like two 15 year olds? In the middle of the day? In an academic building? It’s hard to imagine that something like this could happen on our campus, and even harder to wrap one’s mind around that fact that it did. The incident provokes one obvious question — how did this happen? — which leads to the next obvious question: What should be done to prevent violence of this nature in the future?
The important thing about this particular attack is not necessarily what makes it so alarming (that it took place in broad daylight in a very public area) but that the divide between victim and assailants is that of Oberlin College and the city of Oberlin. So when pondering how best to prevent similar attacks from now on, the uncomfortable question facing College administrators at the moment is whether to restrict community access to College-owned areas. In the interest of safety, should spaces like King, Mudd and the Science Center exclude residents not affiliated with the College at certain hours?
President Krislov was quick to remind us that safety is not something Oberlin generally lacks. “We need to put this instance into context,” he said, and to consider that “this is a very safe campus compared to many others.” Director of Safety and Security Marjorie Burton echoed the sentiment that the recent attack is an isolated circumstance. “I have worked for Oberlin College for over 20 years and cannot recall any such similar incident of robbery … in my experience here,” she said.
Given the extreme infrequency of incidents such as this one, we advocate for underreaction over overreaction when considering new security measures. The campus has historically been well-integrated with the town — after all, the two were founded in the same year. Even Oberlin’s geography helps bring College and community together: Whereas many other colleges in similarly small towns are perched on a hill away from the town or isolated by a wall or gate, Oberlin College flows so smoothly into the city of Oberlin that it’s hard to tell where campus ends and town starts. Moreover, several buildings owned by the College, such as the Apollo and the Art Museum, are mainstays of the town and provide excellent examples of spaces that both College students and town residents can enjoy.
To restrict community access to certain academic buildings would send a message of hostility that would certainly be a mistake.
As Krislov said, “One thing that we’ve prided ourselves on is how open our campus is. It’s a positive part of our community.” A wonderful thing about Oberlin is that town residents don’t have to go out of their way to walk through campus, and neither do students have to walk far to be reach the heart of the city. If the doors if buildings like King, which lies less than 100 yards from downtown, were to be locked for those not carrying an Obie ID, we would lose much of that openness.
We urge the College to not react too strongly to this alarming instance of violence. The solution is not to build an O-Berlin Wall (sorry, we had to) but to think constructively and proactively about what can be done to make everyone — students, professors and community members included — feel safe and welcome here.
We also need to figure out how to get Kornblith’s wallet back.