Students Should Not Engage Gibson’s as Lawsuit Ensues

“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.