Community Organizes Against Hate Incidents

Elizabeth Kuhr and Duncan Standish

Reacting to this semester’s hateful speech and actions, many Oberlin students have begun organizing in an effort to address various community concerns. Among these are a late-night walking escort service called Walk-Line, a group trying to foster more unity between North and South campus and several Multicultural Resource Center-supported Allyship workshops.

In the weeks since the all-campus rally, march and convocation discussion, the Multicultural Resource Center has been busy organizing and planning.

“We’re doing what we usually do, in a broadened way,” said Lorena Espinoza Guerrero, the MRC’s LGBTQ community coordinator. “We’ve been open way past regular hours. We wish we could be open more, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

After being both the target of hate speech and national attention after Gawker’s defamatory article — which suggested the MRC and Dean of Student Life Eric Estes collaborated to illicitly channel funding into the MRC — the center has had its hands full. Espinoza said that the center has been buzzing with activity and demonstrations of solidarity from the wider Oberlin community. Fairchild and Harkness Houses have delivered food almost daily, and other individuals and organizations, on and off campus, have been sending a constant stream of supportive messages.

The staff and affiliated students have also hosted workshops this past week that help students and others explore ideas and strategies of allyship and activism.

“It was important for us to have a space where folks could feel like they could go and learn concepts and work through their knowledge and develop their knowledge in a supportive environment, and then have a second part where they could apply it more realistically,” said Espinoza. “You can’t run before you learn how to walk.”

Judging from the long waitlists the staff has kept for the workshops, the MRC may be adding them to the long list of community programs and initiatives it currently supports.

“Based on the response that we’ve gotten from folks, I think it’s going to be something that we’ll be offering regularly,” said Espinoza Guerrero.

The MRC will conduct another round of the workshops after spring break.

After last month’s series of hate-based incidents, College juniors Natali Terreri and Naomi Morduch-Toubman banded together to form the late-night walking escort service called Walk Line. The project began in the early morning of Monday, March 4 after Terreri overheard several people concerned about campus safety.

“I needed to do something [about it],” said Terreri, “so during this really fast co-op lunch at Old Barrows, I got up and said ‘I want to have walking escorts, who’s down to help?”

Morduch-Toubman quickly hopped on and the two worked closely to get the service running by Monday evening.

“I stood by Natali and her doing this,” said Morduch-Toubman.

Senior Student Senator Tani Colbert-Sangree agreed to help the juniors out. He explained that if they drafted an e-mail in which they outlined the initiative and requested volunteers, he would oversee a rush vote in Student Senate.

In addition to Student Senate, the Multicultural Resource Center and the Edmonia Lewis Center supported Walk-Line and offered to help. With energies high, Murdoch-Toubman and Terreri rapidly drafted the initial e-mail to go out to the student body.

Thirty minutes after senate approved the proposal and the e-mail went out, Walk-Line was up and running. With the help of junior Ben Plaut and over 125 volunteers, the juniors stayed by the phone through the night to dispatch.

“We got a lot of volunteers,” said Morduch-Toubman. “It made people who didn’t know what to do feel better, particularly people who didn’t identify as being in the targeted groups.”

Terreri explained that traffic was low that night but that Safety and Security received a handful of escort requests because people in moving cars harassed students that evening. Also, Morduch-Toubman noted that affected communities organized their own escort systems.

The juniors ran Walk Line through the weekend. But on Wednesday of this week, Terreri and Morduch-Toubman met with Safety and Security Director Marjorie Burton to explore passing the initiative over to the administration.

“Marjorie is really excited about it, she’s 100 percent on board,” said Terreri. “There will be at least two people on shift between 8:30 and 2:30 a.m.”

Walk Line runs until 2:30 a.m. to ensure those who leave Mudd at closing can use the resource after the shuttle Rideline stops running. Walk Line offers other advantages, such as options to request an escort ahead of time and to walk with a peer instead of an officer.

“A student is a lot less intimidating,” said Morduch-Toubman.

And Terreri notes that, unlike a shuttle service, Walk Line is environmentally friendly and a good option if students are looking for peer-to-peer company on their walk.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support,” said Terreri, “One of the deans e-mailed me saying ‘Thank you for making our community safe.’ I felt I was being helpful without imposing on the people who most needed to work and heal.” Approximately 20 students met at lunchtime on Wednesday to discuss the north campus-south campus divide. Facilitated by the Oberlin College Dialogue Center, students shared personal insights and planned how to better combat the separation. According to the OCDC, Oberlin students hosted a dialogue on this subject several years ago. After students shared individual experiences with the divide, the group broke into three working groups to discuss the issue in regards to publicity and accessibility, events and first-year orientation.