The Oberlin Review

Oberlin ACF Actions Polarize Campus

Josh Koller, Contributing Writer

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This is the first installment in the Review’s new Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, Student Senators will provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community.

Oberlin College’s student body is never at rest, nor should it be, given the current state of global, national and campus-wide affairs. The event generating the most noise at the beginning of this week was the panel centered on anti-Semitism held by Oberlin Alums for Campus Fairness on Sept. 22. Along with my fellow Student Senators, I took part in sending an open letter to the student body condemning the actions of ACF. Some people may wonder why Senate chose to take this stance, and I would like to address why I participated in sending the condemnation letter.

The most pivotal point that the letter made was the assertion that the Oberlin community should be more responsive to its largest stakeholders: its students. Alumni have a stake in Oberlin’s success, but I believe student concerns deserve priority. The intention to bolster student voices is a positive one. But in reality ACF’s actions — primarily the acts of harassment referenced in Student Senate’s letter, as well as a letter regarding anti-Semitism that ACF published — served to polarize campus and pit students against each other rather than bring them together. It did not result in increased empathy and understanding but rather animosity and distance. I believe the positive emails and reactions we received in response to Senate’s letter reflect that we accurately represented our constituents.

I attended the panel that ACF hosted. While I was thankful for the dialogue stimulated by the College students and Oberlin community members who attended, I found that the panel fell short of being a productive, educational tool. Kenneth Marcus, one of the speakers on the event panel and a former employee of the U.S. federal government, shared a statistic claiming that 54 percent of Jewish college students experience anti-Semitism. Marcus also shared a story about his experience on a college campus asking Jewish students if they had experienced anti-Semitism at school. When hardly any students replied that they had experienced anti-Jewish sentiments, he listed examples of acts that he personally interpreted as anti-Semitic until a sufficient number of students replied that they had experienced those acts.

While I think that discussion around bigotry is important, defining what a student or any person experiences on their behalf is not a positive action. I also believe that the panel’s characterization of anti-Semitism on Oberlin’s campus as “rampant” is ill-fitting. Approximately 15 Jewish students signed Oberlin ACF’s Jan. 5, 2016 letter to the administration regarding anti-Semitism. While this number may neglect some students who were afraid to sign the letter — as Oberlin ACF President Melissa Landa pointed out — it still falls far short of the national average that Marcus provided. Do not get me wrong; even one act of anti-Semitism is one too many. There is no place for racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, anti-queerness or any form of bigotry on this campus. However, characterizing anti-Semitism reported by a minute portion of the Jewish student body as “rampant” and holding a panel on anti-Semitism in response, juxtaposed with the ways Oberlin alumni have responded to allegations of racism from Black students, paints an unsatisfying picture.

Some have addressed Black students’ claims, and others have mocked them or neglected them. I do not mean to imply that the struggles or oppression of any two groups of people should be compared; I merely mean to ask people to think critically about the ways we respond to requests for help from different bodies of people. Now more than ever is a time for everyone — and as a Jew, I call specifically to Jews — to practice empathy and understanding, particularly to people of color nationally and internationally experiencing oppression.

I began this week hearing about the ACF panel, but I ended my week hearing, for the upteenth time, about Black people in the United States being gunned down by police. I would like to extend whatever empathy I can to affected communities and reaffirm that #BlackLivesMatter. I call on Oberlin College and its governing bodies to place themselves on the side of empathy and declare that #BlackLivesMatter.

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9 Responses to “Oberlin ACF Actions Polarize Campus”

  1. Paul S. Treuhaft, MD, MA, '64 on October 2nd, 2016 2:23 AM

    I write here as a member of ACF, but not on behalf of ACF, and I write to comment briefly on two of Mr. Kollar’s points. The first is the general way in which he minimizes the concerns ACF exists to address. We have made the point over and over that we are responding toAntisemitism of long standing that is deeply embedded in current Oberlin culture — culture, by the way, that extends beyond the campus and into the alumni body as well. We see one of our tasks as making visible to all what has become visible to us.
    The second point is that there should be and indeed cannot be any conflation of Antisemitism with other forms of racial hatred.. ACF as an organization has only one purpose. The members of ACF as individuals support a great many social causes, and some of us oppose some as well. That is not our business and not what we are about. We have no argument with other public causes unless in the course of doing their business they begin to adopt Antisemitic language or ideas. Sadly, the Black Lives Matter movement has begun to do this, so many of us, while supporting the idea that Black lives matter, cannot support the organizations that use that name.

    Paul S. Treuhaft, MD, MA, ’64

  2. Mark W Behr on October 2nd, 2016 3:17 PM

    It’s a sad state of affairs when a Student Senator is unable to support fifteen fellow Jewish students who have reported anti-Semitic incidents. It appears he is the one not “thinking criticallly” of the demeaning anti-Semitic experiences class-mates have faced at his (and their) school.

  3. Z on October 2nd, 2016 10:40 PM

    It is incredibly offensive to imply that people who try to speak about one form of oppression are somehow automatically lacking in empathy to others. I don’t post on Facebook about anti-semitism, and I do post in support of BLM, but perhaps that is irrelevant if I also hold concerns about anti-semitism that I share in appropriate contexts? If I really cared I wouldn’t just post regulary and speak up to defend the BLM movement and condemn racism whenever I can, I would stop speaking about any other oppression and prejudice entirely, right? Shall I stop speaking out against transphobia? Islamophobia? Or is it really just that we aren’t allowed to speak up when the people in question are Jewish? Somehow I suspect it is the latter. Shameful.

  4. Mark roberts on October 2nd, 2016 11:51 PM

    The mention of sexism made me consider how problematic the article’s claim becomes. As an experiment, replace the words anti-Semitism with sexism and Jewish with female and it becomes apparent a different standard is being applied to addressing anti-Semitism.

  5. Eli Cabelly on October 3rd, 2016 2:14 AM

    “But in reality ACF’s actions … served to polarize campus and pit students against each other rather than bring them together.”

    I have seen similar pieces written of the impact of President Obama on the United States. Now, when it is written of him they mean with regard to the institutionalized racism in this nation. Here, this is in regard to the anti-semitism at Oberlin College which has driven some students away. The comments are similar. Against President Obama they are written by conservatives. Against ACF they are written by liberals. The effect is the same.

    I am proud to be part of an organization that is vilified in much the same way as President Obama, and both of us for defending minorities. Thank you very much, I really do appreciate that.

  6. HiHo on October 5th, 2016 6:51 PM

    This is amazing. Did Josh Koller write anything in the Review about how the publication of Dr. Karega’s activities were polarizing the campus? Did he say something mild, like “Golly, Oberlin faculty making nasty comments about Jews sure might upset some students. Maybe that isn’t so good.”

    Or perhaps he was more forceful. Maybe he said “You know, the way people are defending naked hatred in the name of “academic freedom” is really disturbing.”?

    Anything like that? No. He waited until some Jews said “This stuff is way over the top and symptomatic of something much larger.” and spoke out against THAT, because, of course, THAT was offensive. It is indeed offensive to people who need to be given permission by others to take offense.

  7. neurodoc on October 6th, 2016 2:42 PM

    Oberlin has come to national attention this year on account of outrageous expressions of antisemitism by one of its junior faculty members, Joy Karega, through Facebook. For channeling the loathsome antisemite Louis Farrakhan and repeating his lunatic conspiracy theories, Karega has been placed on administrative leave and relieved of all academic responsibilities, while the school dithers about what is to be done about Karega, whose contract will be up next June. Poor President Krislov who has said how personally pained he is by Karega’s bigotry, after 9 months and direction by the Trustees to investigate the matter, still has not decided what is to be done about this huge embarrassment to Oberlin, and may hope to ride off into the sunset next June himself without addressing the issue of antisemitism at Oberlin.

    In the meantime, student representatives like Josh Koller choose to remain silent about the antisemitism that has prompted alumni to organize themselves in protest it, objecting instead to the protest of the antisemitism?! Well, it won’t go away.

  8. Marta B Tanenbaum on October 10th, 2016 5:25 PM

    This reporting of Ken Marcus is not accurate. I also attended the Symposium which is now available to all by Vimeo. ON TAPE: Ken Marcus shared national research that 54% of students had experienced antiSemitism on their campuses. Then he described how he’d met with students at Trinity College, who at first did not think they’d encountered “any.” But when Marcus listed specifics for them, students quickly recognized them until every hand in the room there went up. The named examples Marcus shared at Oberlin were: 1) “Jews are greedy” and 2) “JAP [Jewish American Princess] as an insult.” These, the reporter summarized unspecified as ” acts that he [Marcus] personally interpreted as antiSemitic.” That is ahistoric. Both comments involved Jews and money. The latter is only postWW2 and includes a prejudicial jab at suburban/white/female/privilege aimed exclusively against Jewish women. I don’t think Marcus was alone; he didn’t just “interpret” these as Antisemitic remarks. That’s why Trinity students instantly recognized them. This was just one example where your article minimizes and trivializes a genuine problem that’s been documented at Oberlin. Others: without any reporter’s curiosity, you belittled the 15 who signed the document as statistically insignificant. You might have instead wondered why they felt, and continue to feel, it’s essential they remain anonymous on campus. As for the comparison of Antisemitism to BLM, I can only suggest that social justice struggles are not a zero-sum-game and the competition there is not helpful to solving either.

  9. Lena Amick on October 13th, 2016 10:24 PM

    Josh, I’d like to offer my support and appreciation for your voice. As an alumnus (class of ’13) who is also Jewish, I appreciate the work that you and other students do to speak out and work for justice on campus. While we may not be as loud, I want you and other students to know that there are many alumni who are in your corner – we believe you, we appreciate you, we benefit from your work. As a student, I remember how important it was to try to organize with my fellow students against the injustices we saw on campus, including all forms of racism, classism, and religious intolerance. I admire and appreciate you and all students who continue to do that work on campus – it’s you, not us alumni, who are carrying our legacy and making Oberlin what it is and will be for future generations of students.

    I want to speak up about this because I think it’s unacceptable that a small minority of vocal alumni (some of them shamefully anonymous on a public forum) should bitingly cut down, insult, and deride students who are doing this work every day on campus, only using your voices when it’s convenient for their message, and insulting your intentions when you point out nuanced truths of oppression.

    It’s unacceptable and inhumane to condemn anti-Semitism but turn a blind eye to anti-Black racism, yet that is what some of the alumni I see here are doing. I hope your letter is a call to all of us to ensure that Black lives matter in all the institutions we’re involved with, and that anti-Semitism also has no place.

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