President Carmen Twillie Ambar sent an email to the Oberlin community announcing a new Presidential Initiative to educate and mobilize students against racial injustice. This announcement came six days after four Minneapolis police officers brutally murdered Floyd, setting in motion global protests against racial injustice.
“I will establish a Presidential Initiative for faculty and students that seeks to address issues of violence, police-community relationships, and racial injustices,” President Ambar wrote in her May 31 email. “One could imagine courses, co-curricular initiatives, community engagements, and internships focused on the very issues that the death of George Floyd invokes. The primary goal of this initiative is not purely for learning, but for learning that demonstrably is applied to our world.”
While the initiative is still in its early stages, many College community members have voiced support for the initiative’s potential and hope to see it translated into tangible action. Director and Faculty-in-Residence of Afrikan Heritage House Candice Raynor sees this moment as an opportunity for the College to enact institutional change.
“How can we take this opportunity to learn and grow and work toward being the best version of Oberlin that we can be?” Raynor wrote in an email to the Review. “Not just right now while the murders and protests are in the media, I’m talking about institutional change. This moment presents a wonderful opportunity to remind the world and ourselves of what Oberlin stands for, and that starts right here on campus. We don’t have to go and talk about it, we just need to be about it. Just do the work.”
The Theater Department released a statement committing to addressing issues of racial justice in its programming.
“Oberlin College Theater condemns all practices, policies, and ideologies rooted in white supremacy that are reflected in the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Monica Diamond, Tony McDade and many others,” the Theater department wrote in an official statement on June 3. “To this end, this year we plan to allocate resources for a series of workshops, forums, and/or guest speakers that work specifically to dismantle notions of white supremacy in our field and continue to use theatre as a tool for social change.”
Other College departments and divisions have released statements of solidarity. These groups include the Conservatory, Oberlin College Libraries, and the Athletics Department. Some student organizations have also released statements of solidarity, in addition to those released by the College.
Raynor spoke to the solidarity statements that she has seen from different institutional groups.
“What I will be looking forward to seeing is the action that should follow those statements,” Raynor wrote. “What will that support look like? Oberlin has a rich history of activism and social justice, but it can’t rest on its laurels. … While I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about what this work could look like, I am most interested in what Black students think we should be doing.”
ABUSUA, Oberlin’s Black Student Union, wrote a letter to the administration and board of trustees on June 9 with a list of demands regarding their funding, safety, and cultural competency and enrichment at Oberlin.
“Oberlin has a legacy of activism and supporting the advancement of Black people,” the letter read. “We would like to see these values reflected in Oberlin’s response to the current Black Lives Matter movement. … We encourage Oberlin to take another look at itself as an institution and make the necessary changes to improve its support of the Black community. This is an opportunity to create a better future for students attending Oberlin College.”
While the details of the Presidential Initiative won’t be finalized until the academic year, many members of the College community are anticipating a renewed commitment to racial justice.
“Let’s hope that whatever shape this initiative takes, it has teeth,” Raynor wrote.