Over the course of the summer, many people around the country seemed to suddenly be worried about Oberlin students. An explosion of media attention following an initial verdict in the lawsuit filed by Gibson’s Food Mart & Bakery against the College and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo inspired people who have never set foot in Ohio to weigh in on whether we have our heads screwed on straight.
The Review’s inboxes were flooded with messages written in varying degrees of hysteria. Some wanted to know if Oberlin students knew how stupid and short-sighted we are. Some accused us — both the Review staff specifically and the student body at large — of being sheep at the beck and call of College administrators. Others wrote to display their remarkable arsenal of racist slurs. One interested reader demanded that we eat him — twice.
The flood of attention was more bemusing than it was surprising — at the center of a longstanding media microscope, Oberlin students have experienced this before and, no doubt, will again.
However, even with the media maelstrom swirling, Oberlin students spent the summer doing what they do best: finding work they care about, committing themselves fully to it, and leaving behind a legacy of care and compassion. They again dismantled the notion that this student body is a monolithic entity full of naïve children who know nothing about how to function in the real world. Oberlin students demonstrated — as they have time and time again — that they are fully up to the task of empowering themselves and others to make significant, long-lasting impacts on their communities.
We saw this ability in the students who spent their summers teaching and writing grants in Colombia, publishing articles in national outlets, organizing for climate justice, working for multinational corporations, and conducting research through programs like Mellon Mays and the Oberlin College Research Fellowship, as well as many more. Student-athletes spent countless hours improving their skills, as did our world-class Conservatory musicians. Together our Resident Assistants, Peer Advising Leaders, Peer Mentors, and other student leaders collectively spent thousands of hours preparing to support their peers throughout the academic year.
We saw it in the 30 Bonner Scholars who spent their summers doing service work in 13 states and seven countries. These remarkable young people — who commit to long-term community engagement throughout their entire Oberlin experience — worked on a range of issue areas including arts, education, youth programming, environmental sustainability, health, and immigration.
We also saw it in the students who are making transitions into and out of Oberlin. As covered on page 3 of this issue, the Social Justice Institute for new students saw record registration this year, as students grappled with complex questions of identity, power, and privilege. At the other end of their collegiate journeys, dozens of Oberlin graduates accepted prestigious graduate school offers, job opportunities, and travel fellowships to spend a year or two researching, teaching, and learning about new places and cultures.
This list only begins to scratch the surface of everything the Oberlin student body accomplishes on a daily basis. There is nothing monolithic about this group of young people, nothing broad about the strokes we paint ourselves with. Yes, we don’t always agree with each other; certainly, we mess up. But from those challenging moments arise opportunities for growth, opportunities that we take seriously and build upon.
As we’ve all come back to campus after summers spent around the world, engaged in the work that motivates each of us, we’ve greeted old friends and met new ones. In these moments of relationship building, one truth emerges above all others: While everybody else was busy worrying about Oberlin students, we didn’t dwell on the negativity. We didn’t become deflated or defeated, for one simple reason: we were too busy with the work of making the world a better place — and that’s where our focus will stay.