Community Must Come Together in Difficult Times

Charles Newman, OC ’65

To the Editors:

Here are some ways the Oberlin community of students, faculty, administrators, and alumni might function as a special social resource in these terrible times.

Oberlin must always nourish and celebrate the arts. The Allen Memorial Art Museum could exhibit the works of refugee artists, the Conservatory could put on concerts where refugee musicians would perform, and art students could make and sell posters to publicize local job fairs and donate the proceeds to programs that support residents of Lorain County facing hard times.

Students and faculty members must always meet the highest academic standards. A topic can be relevant to both scholarly debates and social, political, or economic controversies. Such a topic can be studied as rigorously as any other, and the results can be presented with proper documentation, clarity, and order. For example, take a white unemployed male factory worker who is racist, sexist, and homophobic in his feelings and jokes. He regularly listens to right-wing talk shows and votes for right-wing candidates. He even occasionally attends rallies for them, though at those rallies he only stands and cheers, nothing violent. Are there moral rights that this “deplorable” doesn’t have because of his attitudes and conduct? If so, which ones and why?

Alumni must help maintain Oberlin’s traditions. One tradition is outreach beyond the campus, and one way alumni could continue this work would be to organize conferences on campus and in places where there are resource-rich Alumni Association chapters. At these conferences, relevant topics would be treated in intellectually responsible ways by experts including, as appropriate, some of the many alumni who have become professors. Presentations would be geared to educated non-specialists and sessions would be open to non-Oberliners and, if possible, posted online. One topic might be physical, economic, and legal obstacles facing homeowners trying to reduce their personal dependence on fossil fuels. Another might be doing more to protect workers from harmful impacts of globalization and technological change.

Too many of those in power today do not care whether the poor have health care, think it is better to win than to have allies, and all but boast of their invincible ignorance regarding global warming. Decent people should respond to the harm they do by threatening anger and more. Members of the Oberlin community should go beyond protest and use the resources they share to limit or offset the harm.

Charles Newman
OC ’65