One Town Demands Information on College Trespass Policy

Rosemary Boeglin, News Editor

At the One Town Campaign’s second meeting on Tuesday at the First Church in Oberlin, attendees and organizers called for a community solution to concerns raised about the College’s trespass policy. Campaign members see the policy as problematic in part because concrete information regarding the policy and its purpose, enforcement and adjudication are obscured from public knowledge.

In addition to a review of the school’s trespass policy, the Campaign organizers, students, staff and members of the community in attendance on Tuesday — as well those at the first meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13 — seek a larger reevaluation of the College’s relationship with the town and its residents.

Though conversations regarding the trespass policy are not a new development, the One Town Campaign formed in recent months to officially align itself in opposition to the policy, and to spread information about its members’ concerns to others within the Oberlin community. Much of the campaign’s first meeting focused on sharing personal experiences with the policy and airing concerns about its effects, but Tuesday’s second meeting concentrated on developing potential solutions and calls to action.

Tommie Jackson-Smith, Oberlin resident and facilitator at the second meeting, began the forum by posing the question, “What kind of strategies would we like to see used to change things?”

The first emphatically — and seemingly universally — expressed response was a desire for a review board comprised of Oberlin community members to oversee the administration of No Trespass notices. Other familiar suggestions — increased first-year orientation programs to introduce students into the community and the inception of interactive programs between the College and the town — were also well received among attendees.

“There should be more responsibility on the part of the College and College students to give more thought when we come into this place as temporary residents … as people who don’t know this place,” Roxanne Rapaport, College junior, said at the meeting Wednesday night. “I would like to see, maybe during an orientation period, conversations happening about what it means for students to be coming here, and having that conversation [not only] among students [but also with] others in the community.”

Other points of discussion were more heavily debated: requests for regular community access to a number of campus facilities, including the Conservatory practice rooms, Philips Gym and Mudd Library; the right of the College to regulate the behavior of individuals within its private property; a complete abolition of the No Trespass policy, or at least the inability to place minors on trespass notice; and, more generally, the duty of the College to extend more services and resources to individuals outside of the College network.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Dean of Students Eric Estes said, “I agree with about 90 percent of what people have had to say tonight,” and emphasized that his door is open to members of the College and community who would like to discuss the issue. Estes added that most of the cases he has personally overseen regarding trespass notices since his time as dean have involved students or former students, and not community members.

At the group’s first meeting, Caroline Jackson-Smith, associate professor of Theater and African American Studies and Tommie’s mother, acknowledged that the College has a legal right to restrict access to the campus, but questioned the ethical implications of that choice.

“Yes, private colleges are given certain liberties, but is that who we really want to be?” Jackson-Smith asked. Students in attendance called into question the policy’s ability to perform its professed goal, which is to increase safety. Rather, some interpreted its function as “exporting” crime into the town or prioritizing the safety of College students and staff over that of town residents.

Lyle Kash, College senior and organizer of the One Town Campaign, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting on what he sees as a discrepancy in the importance of safety for different individuals within the larger Oberlin community.

“I think that if Oberlin is a liberal institution and does value itself as a place that really supports social justice issues and [has been at the forefront of] the anti-racist struggle, I just want to know why because my dad earned a bunch of money, my body is more worth protecting,” Kash said.

David Hill, pastor at the First Church of Oberlin, and many others noted the limits of current conversations about the No Trespass list as even basic details about the policy, such as what parts of town it applies to, remain obscured.

“There seems to be a lot of thought flowing from anecdotal evidence,” Hill said. “Which is a very dangerous way of proceeding because as much as people’s stories are important, there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve been filtering out tonight that I really want to know if it’s fact or fiction.”

Alex Riordan, College sophomore, defended the community dialogue as an effective space for conversation on how to move forward with changes to the policy.

“It is true we’re basing things on anecdotal evidence, but that’s all we have. … As a community it’s important to trust the people who are telling you things. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a community at all,” Riordan said.

In an interview with the Review, Director of Safety and Security Marjorie Burton said that of the roughly 1,200 complaints handled by Safety and Security every year, approximately 10 to 20 of those calls pertain to a No Trespass notice. Although she was unable to provide concrete data regarding offenses committed by those on trespass notice, Burton estimated that the majority of those on the list were placed there due to theft or burglary, sexual violence, physical assault or robbery. Burton said that fewer, though still a significant number, of cases involved vandalism or destruction of College property or “crimes against a person,” such as menacing or stalking. Burton said that even fewer cases involved more minor infractions, such as entering and using the gym without first purchasing a day-pass, for which first-time offenders are generally not issued a No Trespass notice.

Burton was also unable to provide specifics regarding the boundaries of College property, and exactly where No Trespass notices may be enforced — a question that was raised multiple times at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I suggest that we get information about what the list applies to [and that it be documented], so that we as a campaign can talk about what it is that we’re actually talking about,” Riordan said.