Trigger warning: This article contains the original language used in recent acts of hate speech on campus.
This past week, numerous instances of racist, anti-Semitic and queerphobic notes and graffiti were discovered across campus. The first occurrence, discovered Saturday, Feb. 9, in the Science Center, involved several slurs.
Lorena Espinoza, LGBTQ community coordinator at the Multicultural Resource Center, found the second in the MRC three days later on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
As a response to vandalism in the Science Center — including the replacement of “Black” for “Nigger” on Black History Month posters, drawings of swastikas, damage to Year of the Queer posters and reported destruction of the Chinese calendar — students gathered in Wilder Hall on Monday to discuss the acts, share their experiences and grievances related to hate speech and bigotry on campus and formulate preliminary plans of action.
A sizable cohort of 460 students, faculty, staff and community members marched on Wednesday in solidarity with the MRC after someone left a note inside their Wilder office on Tuesday that renamed the center the “Nigger-Faggot Center.” The group marched from Wilder through the Science Center and around North Quad to the front of Cox Administration Building. After approximately five minutes, they marched up the stairs into Cox and through the building before continuing into Tappan Square where they gathered in its center and shared their reactions, thoughts and ideas. A number of communities were represented, including the POC community, the queer community, the international student community, the Latino community, the program house community and the Jewish community, among others.
Many expressed frustration about the long history of attacks on the people of color community, the queer community and others at Oberlin.
“I’ve seen four springs like this. I’ve seen four springs where hate speech comes up. Same shit, every spring. It’s not just about these big events; no one wants to address the micro-aggressions that happen everyday ... But you know what? We’re here. I paid my tuition for the semester, I’m not going anywhere,” College senior Tiesha Cassel said to the crowd gathered in the center of Tappan Square after Wednesday’s march.
According to Safety and Security reports and numerous student testimonials given at the community dialogue, in the last two years multiple incidents of discriminatory graffiti, vandalism and direct confrontation have occurred on campus. On April 17, 2011, students stood in solidarity in response to graffiti that read “Nigger Faggot” on the outside of Dascomb Hall. In April of the following year, members of the Afrikana community and its allies published a letter in the Review outlining their concerns about the “blatant disrespect that continues to be perpetuated throughout this campus.” This letter was crafted in the wake of a wave of hate speech on the online forum ObieTalk, and the vandalism of Afrikan Heritage House in April 2012, along with acts of vandalism in Third World and Afrikan Heritage House two years prior.
Monday’s discussion centered on issues such as the inability to reach college and community members who consistently did not attend such meetings, the divide between north and south campus, the use of program houses as overflow housing from traditional dorms and the lack of response from the administration in light of a number of conversations pertaining to these issues. Many expressed frustration that President Marvin Krislov, who left the meeting on Monday midway through, did not hear suggestions for institutional responses, such as mandatory educational workshops for incoming first years.
As a result of the community dialogue, hundreds also gathered Thursday in the Science Center atrium for “Sit-In and Stand Up” which aims to “call for an end to racist, queer-phobic and anti-Semitic graffiti, speech and actions at Oberlin College.”
According to A.D. Hogan, College senior and student senate liaison, organizers hope to form working groups in order to begin constructing responses to these acts of hate on campus.
“The primary message is to say that these actions don’t break a community, they don’t destroy a community and moreover [we are] not just taking this as trolling,” Hogan said.
As part of the sit-in, organizers asked attendees to write down concrete steps they would like to take in order to combat the bigotry behind these acts of hate speech.
As Joshua Moton, College senior and co-author of the letter drafted by the “Concerned Members of the Afrikana Community and its Allies” last year, said at Monday’s community dialogue, “More than we need to talk, we need to do.”