Oberlin Co-founds Inter-Collegiate Alliance for Racial Equity

Oberlin College is one of six institutions collaborating to form the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance. This partnership aims to facilitate the sharing of resources and strategies to address issues of racial inequity in higher education. 

“When I announced the Presidential Initiative [on Racial Equity and Diversity], the Oberlin community embraced the concept and recognized its important role during these challenging times,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote in a Nov. 9 email. “LACRELA will accelerate our work in Oberlin and help liberal arts institutions across the country benefit from self-examination, improvement, and collective examination of how we all can improve circumstances for people of color and make a difference in this world.” 

The alliance has been organized with guidance from Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California Race & Equity Center. Other founding institutions of LACRELA include DePauw University, Macalester College, Occidental College, Skidmore College, and Pomona College. According to Harper, another 53 colleges have already signed on to become inaugural members. 

One challenge faced by liberal arts colleges is what Harper calls a “cultural mismatch” between some colleges and their surrounding communities. Multi-institutional collaboration enables the pooling of resources and sharing of ideas, equipping small colleges with tools they might not otherwise have. 

“Trying to think about these issues in a broader way needs a larger number of people to be able to look at the data and to get a sense of whether a particular practice is applicable across all types of institutions,” President Ambar said in an interview with the Review. “Most of us have a small number of students and therefore not that many students of color, frankly. That’s another reason to work collectively.”

Member colleges will have access to monthly eConvenings on specific aspects of racial equity; three campus climate surveys focused on students, faculty, and staff; and an online collection of resources and tools available to all of the colleges’ employees. Additionally, presidents of the alliance’s member colleges will have confidential, quarterly meetings to discuss goals and strategies for effecting collective change. When faced with events of national importance, presidents will be able to take part in rapid response strategy meetings. 

While LACRELA aims to help liberal arts colleges improve racial equity, the Alliance also hopes to become a national voice. 

“When there are times to speak about issues that come to the fore — when you have something as tragic as the George Floyd’s murder — having a common voice about it, I think, is helpful to the national discussion and to national thinking,” President Ambar said. “If the commission’s work was only to think internally, I think that would be missing the national moment and missing an opportunity for Oberlin to continue to do what it’s always done — which is to be a leader in higher education in general, but certainly also to be a leader in issues of race and gender equity.”

For President Ambar, national engagement has always been one of her biggest visions for Oberlin.

“One of my first speeches to students when I came here to Oberlin was, ‘Let’s turn our gaze outward,’” she said. “Let’s turn our gaze outward because that is where the work is. That is where the issues are that make a real difference. That is where the need is.”