The Oberlin Review

Students Should Not Engage Gibson’s as Lawsuit Ensues

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“When they go low, we go high.”

This quote by Michelle Obama became an overused and often cringe-inducing centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. But there is a lot of truth and power in Obama’s words, which can serve as a meaningful guide for the Oberlin College community now searching for a response to news of a lawsuit recently filed by Gibson’s Bakery against the College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo.

News of the lawsuit — which is meant to bully and intimidate College students, faculty, and staff, and can be read in full on the Review’s website — was relayed to the College community almost exactly one year after students initiated a protest against Gibson’s Bakery following a violent altercation at the store involving College students.

Part of the original protest was a boycott of Gibson’s by College students and, initially, the College as well. However, in late January 2017, the College resumed business with Gibson’s — a move students harshly criticized.

Now, following the announcement of the lawsuit, the College has once again ended its business arrangement with Gibson’s. In an email Thursday, interim Vice President of Finance and Administration Alan Norton wrote, “Because of the litigation initiated against the College, all College business with Gibson’s, i.e., purchases with College funds, is prohibited effective as of November 10, 2017, and until further notice.”

As the College severs its business ties with Gibson’s for the second time in a year, students should maintain their commitment to doing the same. There are few acts of protest so quiet yet so powerful as the decision to not patronize a specific establishment because of fundamental disagreement with what it stands for. There are also few responses so appropriate to the situation we now must grapple with.

In reading the legal documents filed by the Gibson family, it is clear that their intention is to provoke an explosive, emotional response from students. Many of the claims they make are against a nameless person or group of people, and are meant to be generally incendiary rather than substantive. The documents also have racist undertones that further expose the core reasons for the lawsuit. The Gibsons have no interest in finding any resolution to this conflict — instead, they seek to assert their prideful moral superiority over the College, which they view as biased and discriminatory.

This provocation is best left ignored. When people attempt to dredge up old conflict in a way that is petty and unproductive, there is no use engaging with them. Playground bullies live not for the act of bullying itself but for the response it inspires.

Instead, students would be wise to follow the example of groups like ABUSUA, which released a statement Thursday that read, in part, “We are choosing to refrain from taking any action other than this statement.” We agree with ABUSUA’s assessment. Any attempts to intimidate will be validated only if we give the Gibson family the response they seek — a sudden, volatile reaction that could be picked up by national right-wing media and used to once again construe Oberlin students as unstable and reactionary, which could again place students directly in the path of potential backlash.

Gibson’s is also attempting to force its conflict with College students to define relations between the greater College and town communities. In the year since the original protest, Gibson’s has repeatedly pointed to its long-standing history in the Oberlin community as a reason that it should be supported while outspoken College students should be condemned.

The justification of a long lifetime is poor reasoning to divide the College from the rest of the city. Injustice should be identified and addressed with resolve everywhere, regardless of the perpetrator’s age. The Gibson family’s blatant attempt to lure students into isolating themselves from the town of Oberlin should be ignored as well — it is imperative that we do not allow sour relations with a single Oberlin establishment to spoil all of the positive, symbiotic relationships that members of the College community have with Oberlin’s other residents and businesses, and with many Oberlin College programs like Bonner Scholars and WOBC.

Finally, members of the College community should remember to support each other during this difficult time. Students of color were disproportionately targeted in the fallout from last fall’s protest of Gibson’s — a result we should be careful to not replicate. We should also lend our support to Dean Raimondo, who works tirelessly to support students. Even when students do not agree with her, her compassion and commitment to us never wavers. It can sometimes be difficult to remember that administrators are human too, but now is as good a time as any to return that compassion to her.

Gibson’s stands to benefit if negative national media attention twists and distorts elements of their lawsuit. Oberlin students have been framed as irrational before, and we will be again. We should, therefore, refuse to engage with Gibson’s and avoid expanding the scope of the conflict. Let them raise a fuss — we should want no part of it. We have already spoken our piece in defense of the members of our community, and we encourage you to continue voicing your opinions through choosing to spend your money intentionally, supporting your community members and loved ones, and enacting Michelle Obama’s words and spirit.

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10 Comments

10 Responses to “Students Should Not Engage Gibson’s as Lawsuit Ensues”

  1. Steven Kennedy on November 10th, 2017 8:47 PM

    You were wrong to boycott in the first place, as the facts ultimately proved. Now you double down on your immoral and irresponsible conduct. What arrogant jerks you are at Oberlin.

  2. Charles Martel on November 13th, 2017 3:42 PM

    Loads of negative publicity and a low eight figure settlement with punitive damages coming out of the endowment may adjust your hubris. Best to seek a settlement.

  3. John bochi on November 16th, 2017 4:48 PM

    Very cowardly not to support a business that was unjustly accused of racism by Oberlin students and the Oberlin community.
    Fake hate crimes, like the above, should be condemned as they take away from real hate crimes.
    Oberon should pay the bakery, make amends and move on.

  4. Ummmmm on November 17th, 2017 12:21 PM

    I find it odd that Gibson’s is described as trying to bully or harass anyone. After all, was it not Mr Gibson who was assaulted by two students while trying to catch a shoplifter? After all, was it Gibson who boycotted Oberlin, because an Oberlin student was a shoplifter?

    Of course, the way you recount everything is disgustingly coy: “students initiated a protest against Gibson’s Bakery following a violent altercation at the store involving College students”. No, what happened is the owners of the shop tried to apprehend a student who actually was shoplifting, and because that student was black, other Oberlin students took it upon themselves to assault the shop owner, and then proceeded to label him a racist and boycott the store. Of course, it later became clear that both the shoplifter, and the Oberlin students were in fact in the wrong, and the student protest ill-informed, self righteous, unreasonable and, in the long tradition of student activism,
    half cocked, immature, narcissistic and irresponsible. This editorial doesn’t “refuse to engage”. By being coy about the established facts petulantly criticizing the plaintiff , it IS engaging. You need to ask some questions before you petulantly editorialize:
    Who was bullied and harassed?
    Who was assaulted?
    Who was stolen from?
    Who sustained damage, here?

    Not you. Not here.

  5. James Henderson on November 19th, 2017 7:12 PM

    With respect, this is your paper and I appreciate having the opportunity to comment.

    As someone who grew up on Oberlin, I am very concerned by this entire event. But if I am being honest, I am very concerned by the unwillingness of the college, and with respect, the editorial board, to appear to consider the remote possibility that the students involved in the attempted theft and subsequent assault might bear any responsibility for the full-blown conflict that is now out in the open.

    And with respect, Oberlin and Oberlin College can both benefit from a cooperative, and respectful relationship. And finally, with respect, there are many people in Oberlin who feel that the college has done just what your editorial piece accuses the Gibson family of –

    In reading the legal documents filed by the Gibson family, it is clear that their intention is to provoke an explosive, emotional response from students. Many of the claims they make are against a nameless person or group of people, and are meant to be generally incendiary rather than substantive. The documents also have racist undertones that further expose the core reasons for the lawsuit. The Gibsons have no interest in finding any resolution to this conflict — instead, they seek to assert their prideful moral superiority over the College, which they view as biased and discriminatory.

    With respect, for many of us, you have articulated (quite eloquently) our feelings of the way that the college has oftentimes sought to, essentially, “manage” the town it calls home. And if we are being completely forthright, the documentation provided by the Oberlin Police Department regarding the ratios of African American shoplifting arrests as opposed to white shoplifters does not support the claims of racial profiling or racism.

    As a practicing mediator, I will absolutely agree with you that this lawsuit is very, very unfortunate and will ultimately hurt both parties. At this moment, there is no winning, only degrees of losing. But I would also urge you to consider your comments regarding what you (the editorial board) would presume are the motivations for Gibson’s seeking redress. It is understandable that in the heat of conflict, but it is myopic.

  6. Ummmmm on November 22nd, 2017 5:26 PM

    “The documents also have racist undertones that further expose the core reasons for the lawsuit. The Gibsons have no interest in finding any resolution to this conflict — instead, they seek to assert their prideful moral superiority over the College, which they view as biased and discriminatory.” <—-I think this could reasonably termed an assertion of prideful moral superiority. So….

  7. Robert M. Slugg '79 on November 30th, 2017 2:35 PM

    This has all the makings of a South Park episode. BTW, that is not a good thing. It is sad that no one at the college has had the insight or humility to take a big step back and say, “you know, we might be wrong here.” That was a pretty obvious move to me a year ago. And while I can understand the students acting that way out of youthful passion and rebellion, for the faculty and administration to join them is pretty inexcusable. At some point someone needs to draw the line at protesting just for the sake of protesting. I guess tomorrow’s lesson will be that there are consequences for actions. It’s all fun and games until someone loses the endowment.

    note: please try to not lose it whilst waiting moderation this time

  8. Irwin Fletcher on December 10th, 2017 12:35 PM

    Very disappointed that an editorial board seems to offer opinions as facts. Opinions are great as long as you promote them as an opinion, but it seems you don’t know the difference. Very sad that Oberlin is being represented so carelessly, and I suspect this will lead to a bigger settlement with Gibson’s.

  9. Oh Oh on December 10th, 2017 4:10 PM

    I trend to liberal on most issues, have a favorable view of Oberlin College.
    Attended a smaller college in the region. There would be no picketing, no College Vice President encouraging and participating with picketers and no College President allegedly asking that a business not to pursue criminal charges for 1st time shoplifters. Other colleges in small towns would seek to deescalate things, express support for a business to not tolerate shoplifting and for the employee who was injured attempting to stop the theft. Some colleges would expel the convicted wine thief.
    This drama is now national news. The Gibsons appeared to had allowed a month to pass with the filing of the lawsuit to give Oberlin College a chance to make things right, apparently concluding their business isn’t viable with a boycott while the College stands by doing nothing after the criminal cases were concluded vindicating the Gibsons.
    The right wing media will descend upon your college now. There will be conservatives funding litigation, particularly as some issues can reach a jury and if proved, Oberlin College faces substantial liability. There will be alumni who will look at the actions of Oberlin College and decide to donate elsewhere rather than their 1st choice. It’d be unsurprising if there isn’t 1 or more conservatives help the Gibsons relocate, promote a niche store bakery in a larger city and be more profitable. They’ll be lauded as heroes. I don’t think the Gibson’s had that as a goal as they have roots in the community going back over 100 years and could had file a lawsuit a year ago..
    The opinion about the Gibson’s litigation’s “racist overtones”cuts both ways, Oberlin College would not had likely aided the picketing a business if the shoplifter was white. It is not moral superiority to stop theft. This editorial board’s commentary is immature, self centered and oblivious to how they fit in with the rest of the world. Now, just think what conservatives will be saying.

  10. Jeff Tobin on December 10th, 2017 4:26 PM

    Did everyone forget that these 3 hooligans admitted to the theft, under oath, were convicted of theft, and that
    they admitted to an assault of the store-owner?

    It sounds like the students at Oberlin go out of their way to find injustice and often come up short, so they
    find a cause like this and latch onto it uncommon zeal. No matter what the facts really are.

    As a father of a high school junior in Ohio, I won’t send my tuition dollars to a school so devoid of reason
    and willngness to honestly and openly debate a topic.

    I applaud the Gibsons for standing up to this insidious form of fascism.

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