Oberlin, Gibson’s Should Settle Out-of-Court

We should all root for a quick out-of-court resolution between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. It can be exciting for us to root for our favorite teams; that is what sports are all about. We may debate who the greatest composer is, the finest painter, or the best dancer. Having all those options is what we enjoy in America, along with the right not to take part at all. But there are times when the outcome of a matter affects us quite profoundly. This lawsuit is not a sporting event; its outcome has the potential to be earth-shattering.

The founders of the College settled in a wilderness in the 19th century, a site where there were no humans at all. In the intervening period — more than 150 years — we have this great town and an amazing College, both of which embrace and promote so many of our country’s defining values — freedom, justice, and nondiscrimination. The Gibson’s establishment has long been a fixture of our business section right across from Tappan Square, the name of “Gibson” honoring one who did not want Black people enslaved and who provided much-needed funds to keep the College afloat. Gibson’s and the College have thrived all these years because they have found a lot of common ground and worked together.

This lawsuit could not have landed upon the College at a worse time. The College’s first-ever Black president, President Carmen Ambar, has been in her position barely four months. The financial situation seems about as dire as it has been in recent memory; it is unprecedented that most professors have had to go two straight years without an increase in their salaries because too few students enrolled and too many failed to return.

Adverse publicity, particularly that arising from an incident involving three Black students and a white business, could stain and weaken the College, Gibson’s, and the city for a long time. Conversely, they could all flourish, as they always did in the past, if they seek and find mutually satisfying solutions. Gibson’s case against the College and the College’s response to it can and should be hashed out behind closed doors.

A lot is at stake. All Oberlin College students and employees will feel a painful sting from any financial settlement — and definitely from a sizable one — that the College may pay. Gibson’s, to its credit, did all that it could to keep the matter from ever going to trial in the first place; it’s ironic that there’s a suit, but they deserve fair chance to recover any losses.

A bare-knuckled, nasty, public fight will leave ugly scars and a putrid smell with no true winner. From what was read, all sides — the students, the College, and Gibson’s — would probably change much of what they did to get us to this day. Any settlement in the dark may produce light for a future just as bright as that of our past.

Celebrate this day.