Creative Writing Program Unfairly Accused

On Dec. 1, The Oberlin Review broke the news of allegations against Professor Bernard Matambo (“Matambo Resigns Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations,” Dec. 1, 2017). The Review followed up with an editorial on the importance of preventing sexual misconduct (“Oberlin Faculty, Administration Must Be Active in Preventing Sexual Misconduct,” Dec. 8, 2017). It is this editorial that I am responding to now.

I firmly believe that Oberlin faculty and staff should do everything in their power to protect students from sexual misconduct. I also want to address the problematic statements that were presented in this editorial by the Review. The editorial demonstrated unethical journalism through the implication that other professors were aware of Matambo’s actions. The editorial offered no proof to support this idea, and until more information is available, this statement is unfounded. It is unethical to draw conclusions about other people’s actions or knowledge based on their proximity to someone — in this case Matambo — who has acted inappropriately.

The editorial states that “Oberlin is a small school, which means that secrets rarely stay secret for very long and news spreads very quickly. It is likely, if the allegations against Matambo are true, that some of his colleagues — in the Creative Writing program and across campus — were aware of his actions well before his resignation three weeks ago.” This statement unjustly accuses other Creative Writing professors of knowing about Matambo’s sexual misconduct before the allegations and his resignation. Oberlin’s size and the size of the department are irrelevant. Unfortunately, sexual misconduct occurs in small colleges, large universities, and departments of all sizes. It is detrimental to Oberlin students, Oberlin professors, and the school’s overall educational goals to point fingers at professors instead of focusing on direct action, such as gathering information about the allegations against Matambo and supporting students who are struggling to process the events. As Mia Park says in a different Review article concerning Matambo, “I’m feeling kind of betrayed and hurt because I trusted him with a lot of information, and I feel like having this happen means I have to reassess all the kindness that he’s given me.” (“Matambo Resigns Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations,” Dec. 1, 2017).

The Dec. 8 editorial continues to unfairly assign blame: “Given how likely it is that other Creative Writing faculty were aware of potential sexual misconduct involving a member of their own program, an internal review of the entire program should be conducted by the Title IX office…” This statement does not investigate if other Creative Writing professors were aware of Matambo’s sexual misconduct, but rather assumes the likelihood of this claim.

I want to make myself perfectly clear. I do not condone Matambo’s actions. Sexual misconduct is unacceptable. I am proud of the former students who came forward to share the truth.

The Dec. 8 editorial concludes by saying, “It would be a shame if these allegations against Matambo poison the entire well of productive student-faculty engagement…” I agree; it would be a shame for these allegations to affect other professors and to create a lack of trust between students and professors. Therefore, I think it is important that the journalism and discussions surrounding the allegations against Matambo do not blame or “poison” other faculty members until the facts are known. Proximity and a small program do not create culpability among others. Journalism must be ethical and factual.