Bigoted Vandalism, Harassment Lead to Systemic Reform

SPECIAL COVERAGE –FBI accepts request to investigate –Details on vandalism suspect, Klan sighting revealed –Student organizers targeted, harassed Trigger Warning: This article contains original language used in hate speech.

Rosemary Boeglin and Julia Herbst

After publication: The College released a statement Thursday night, stating that as a result of ongoing conversations and the current juncture in the investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is initiating an investigation of recent bias incidents on campus.


Information has emerged that two students were removed from campus last week in connection with the recent flurry of vandalism and hate speech at Oberlin. One of the students, a white male, confirmed to a Review editor last week that he has not been on campus for “several days” and maintained that he was not responsible for the racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ messages that appeared around campus, stating, “I hope the real culprit is found and punished.”

Despite the removal of these students, threatening messages and conduct have not abated. A report was filed early Monday morning regarding the sighting of an individual on campus dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes. But the Oberlin community has been further shaken by a string of incidents over the last two days involving multiple reports that student organizers are being harassed, threatened and even chased on campus.

Meanwhile, the Review has uncovered evidence that suggests the timeline of the hate speech incidents may extend back much further than previously believed. There is mounting evidence that may link last month’s acts of vandalism with postings of similar or identical content that have appeared on some Oberlin-specific online forums, such as ObieTalk, over the last year. Matching timestamps, corresponding IP addresses and cross-promotion between accounts on several platforms indicate that the offensive online messages likely originated from a small group of users.

But while this information suggests a small contingent of perpetrators, the reports of menacing conduct toward student organizers — all of which have occurred since the removal of the two students — raise concern that the brewing controversy may be inspiring new offenders to action. The student contacted by the Review emphasized that he had no involvement with the Ku Klux Klan sighting: “I’ve been home for several days — the KKK incident yesterday literally couldn’t have been me,” he said.

Additionally, a student has reported that campus Safety and Security found defaced posters in the academic building King Hall a week prior to the sighting of an individual in what appeared to be Ku Klux Klan robes on south campus. Upon notifying the officer of cards depicting white supremacist images and advertising a Klan-affiliated website, she was asked not to disclose the information. This has come to light alongside reports by the Oberlin Police Department that the sighting of a person in KKK robes may have been a mistake, as cited by publications including The New York Times and The Guardian.

Although the precise number of incidences — both offensive writing and physical attacks — remains unknown, it is clear that well over a dozen incidents have occurred since the beginning of this semester, targeting students, faculty and administrators alike.

Sunny Tabler, a double-degree senior, spotted what she reported to be an individual donning Klan regalia while driving with her boyfriend to Afrikan Heritage House early Monday morning after a late-night rehearsal in the Conservatory.

Immediately after she notified Afrikan Heritage House Residential Assistant and College sophomore Gifty Dominah, who instructed Tabler to call Safety and Security, an emergency meeting was called at approximately 1:30 a.m.

“When I called [Safety and Security] the operator that was working actually laughed a little bit,” Tabler said. “[A] second person called … to make sure that they were taking it seriously.”

Though the OPD has cast doubt on her report, Tabler remains certain of what she saw. “The police are saying that I didn’t see anything and that somebody was carrying a blanket,” she said. “So a blanket is going to magically unfold while the wind is blowing and cover their entire body and form a point at the top of their head?”

Following the report, Safety and Security officers informed Tabler that they found a person with a blanket on north campus — approximately half a mile away from Tabler’s sighting — but expressed doubt that it was the same person she saw earlier that night on south campus.

In reference to the spotting of a person with a blanket, Tabler replied, “So how is Safety and Security going to tell me that doesn’t apply [to the investigation], but the police department is saying that’s their story?”

Safety Concerns

Tabler, along with many student organizers, expressed concern for her safety after appearing in several videos on and being identified by name in other media coverage.

In response to reports of student harassment, Dean of Students Eric Estes wrote in an e-mail to the student body on Tuesday that the College had heightened Safety and Security’s presence, particularly on south campus and had begun to work more closely with the Oberlin Police Department.

“We ask that you continue to be aware of your surroundings and be in close communication with us,” Estes wrote in the e-mail. “We are here to work with you. We are in this together.”

Safety and Security released a Special Alert Tuesday evening detailing three specific instances in which students were harassed on Monday between approximately 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

“Students are getting pursued; students are getting followed; students feel extremely unsafe. That’s the real part,” said AD Hogan, College senior, senior class president and a prominent organizer of the community response. “Even if it wasn’t a [KKK] sighting, [it’s] the fact that students feel this strongly and this insecure and this unsafe, it’s the fact that students are unsafe, … not just that students feel unsafe, but [that] students are being pursued, followed [and] tar- geted specifically for their efforts and their identities.”

In response to growing safety concerns, College juniors Natali Terreri and Naomi Morduch Toubman have created Walk-Line, a program that provides volunteer escorts for those who feel unsafe walking alone at night. The initiative ran Monday and Tuesday nights from 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and may continue in the coming weeks, depending on student demand and availability of volunteers.

Unfolding Investigation

Mounting circumstantial evidence — including timestamps, common IP addresses, mimicked content and online accounts analyzed by the Review, as well as interviews with confidential sources — strongly suggests a link between hate speech appearing on anonymous Oberlin online forums and incidents of written hate speech on campus.

Concern regarding hate speech on Oberlin online forums is hardly new. Last year, after Afrikan Heritage House was vandalized and racist, anti-queer and other bigoted comments began to flood the anonymous online forum ObieTalk, a letter was printed in the April 13, 2012, issue of the Review from members of Oberlin’s Africana community and its allies. The letter quoted hate speech from ObieTalk to express the “ugly legacy of racism and prejudice” in the town of Oberlin. Posts referring to President Obama as a “nigger” and all black people as “fucking lowly niggers” were paradigmatic of the offensive nature of many of these posts.

The two individuals suspected to be responsible for much of February’s hate speech have been connected to various online forums, including Oberchan, an anonymous forum that borrows its name from the unmonitored imageboard site, which is notorious as an Internet black market for extreme and often violent content; a Facebook account called Oberlin Gay Queers, which is not known to be affiliated with any student organizations and does not appear to seriously engage with LGBTQ issues; and a Twitter account that uses the handle “Adolf Krislov” and features a picture of College President Marvin Krislov surrounded by Nazi imagery. The Twitter account, which frequently commented on issues surrounding the First Amendment and hate speech, posted for the first time on Feb. 11 — two days after the first incidents of hate speech were found in the Science Center — and has not been updated since Feb. 18.

College senior and Computer Science major Will Adams-Keane, who has not been identified as a suspect in the hate speech investigation, created ObieTalk during his first year at Oberlin. Adams-Keane deleted the site at the beginning of this semester after a sudden and dramatic uptick in the number of posts containing racial hate speech and commenting on sensitive topics, including the recent suicide of a student.

“I saw [the written hate speech on campus] as a natural escalation of what was happening [on ObieTalk]. … In the past there’s always been stuff on ObieTalk — nasty stuff — but over Winter Term and right at the beginning of the semester, it was probably tenfold.” Adams-Keane, as the site’s administrator with access to IP addresses, was able to determine that only a handful of commenters were responsible for the vast majority of hateful messages.

Adams-Keane initially tried to ban accounts associated with those IP addresses, but nearly identical material quickly reappeared under different addresses.

“I could tell it was the same people because it was the same content being recycled and reposted over and over again, and dealing with the same themes, [such as] the graffiti on campus,” he said. “But because all the content was related, … I assumed it was a very small group. … It seemed like it was enough that it was probably more than one person.”

Adams-Keane confirmed links between several anonymous online forum users, social media accounts and online posts featuring hate speech, and posited that the same persons were likely responsible for much of the offensive content on each.

“I would say that some of the stuff that’s been posted [online] is probably done by the same person that made the Gay Queers account and the Twitter account. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t all the same person,” Adams-Keane said.

The appearance of physical hate speech that had previously been confined to online forums demands a distinct response according to Caitlin O’Neill, Africana community coordinator of the Multicultural Resource Center.

“There are ways in which you don’t have to see and don’t have to address Internet websites like ObieTalk in the same way you have to address things that are very real, very visible and very physical in your space,” she said. “But when it’s here and in your space, … you have to address … that there are … people in the Oberlin community or Oberlin students that either think this way or … are still willing to engage in this level of hate speech conversation and vitriol.”

White Supremacist Presence

College senior Megan Hardy contacted Review staff Tuesday afternoon to report that on the previous Tuesday, Feb. 26, she came across cards advertising a KKK website attached to defaced posters in King. Hardy claimed that Safety and Security was well aware of this information in the week prior to Tabler’s sighting.

The officer who collected the posters confirmed the incident and said he filed a report with his office documenting the presence of KKK-associated materials.

Hardy believes that the administration withheld valuable information relating to white supremacist and Klan materials that were found on campus before Monday morning’s sighting.

“[At the convocation on Monday] I listened to the administration claim that they had no idea the hate was so present on this campus. This is at the very least a falsification,” Hardy wrote in an e-mail. “Safety and Security knew and asked me to keep it to myself. I can only assume that the administration had been informed and made the decision of inaction.”

Estes rejected this claim. “There has been a flood of racist propaganda on campus in recent weeks, including general references to the KKK and other white supremacist groups,” he wrote in an e-mail. “There was never any evidence of a KKK presence on campus until Monday morning’s report.”

Meredith Gadsby, associate professor and chair of African American Studies, said in an interview with CNN that, “some faculty have had invitations to the new KKK delivered to our mailboxes.” Additionally, several faculty members have reported receiving letters containing hate speech in their mailboxes in Rice Hall over the past month.

The Review and many others in the Oberlin community with public e-mail addresses received an e-mail on Tuesday night with the subject line “The White Problem.” The author described what he perceives as a genocide being perpetrated against “my race, the white race” by “anti-whites”, citing the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment for the Crime of Genocide.

When questioned, the author did not profess a connection with the KKK or any other white supremacist group and said that he obtained the recipients’s e- mail addresses from the official Oberlin website.

The Office of Communications sent an e-mail to the student listserv late Tuesday evening regarding the e- mail. “Apparently this has been happening on campuses throughout the country. We are investigating and will let the community know if we are able to determine the source.”

Campus Infighting

Frustration with the administration’s response to February’s acts of hate speech began long before Monday’s convocation in Finney Chapel. At the first community forum on Feb. 10, organized the day after the first acts of hate speech were found in the Science Center, upperclassmen criticized the administration for what they saw as a failure to respond to calls from the Africana community the year before to address rampant hate speech on ObieTalk as well as two instances of vandalism at Afrikan Heritage House.

Many students also expressed a fear that big- oted action would escalate. One student at the meeting said, “The next step is violence, emotional and physical.”

Since then, the tally of hate-inspired incidents has reached nearly as high as the number of meetings held to address them. President Krislov and other members of the administration have borne the brunt of a high degree of criticism, primarily from students who say they have been unsupportive, non-communicative and inactive or, at the very least, too slow to act.

At Monday’s convocation, titled “We Stand Together,” student panelist Warren Harding, College senior, expressed disappointment with both past and present responses to incidents of a bigoted nature on campus.

“What the administration fails to understand is that while students are the backbone of this school, [the administration is] paid to lead us,” Harding said. “Every time these incidents happen, it has fallen to students, faculty and staff, and particularly members of the targeted communities, to lead these discussions, facilitate and engage.”

But the administration is not the only one under fire. Senior class president and key organizer of community responses AD Hogan has been asked by some students in an online petition to publicly apologize for appearing in a CNN video with other students, interrupting President Krislov with a call for “no bullshit.”

The petition cited Hogan’s position as an elected figure to represent the student body, stating, “You touted the values of respect, and have purported to have a strong desire to ensure all voices are heard. And yet, you denied our President that very right, while misrepresenting the temperament and widely-held beliefs of the student body.”

Despite demonstrable disappointment in this behavior by the nearly 200 students who signed the petition, others see the action as an appropriate response.

One such supporter, Jonathan Sydney, OC ’12 — who was known for his active participation in political and environmental issues on campus during his time here — said that he finds most of the criticism of students in the video “extremely patronizing.”

“White students should be listening more and focusing on understanding the reasons behind actions like the disruption, instead of telling students of color that they are not entitled to use confrontational methods to stand up for their safety,” Sydney said. “Notions of ‘solidarity’ and ‘unity’ are empty without respecting the tactics that directly impacted community members use to further their struggles.”

Silver Linings

As a result of this week’s myriad discussions related to institutionalized privilege and everyday obstacles facing marginalized communities at Oberlin, students and faculty have formed groups to combat these issues.

A variety of working groups met in Afrikan Heritage House throughout this past week to discuss a number of subjects. Over 100 students showed up to the first meeting on Tuesday night, which quickly broke up smaller group designed to tackle areas of shared concern including Athletics, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, Conservatory, Natural Sciences, Documentation and Institutional Memory and Trainings and Workshops.

Academic departments, such as the Art History and Biology departments, and have also discussed making significant structural and curricular modifications in an attempt to increase diversity, and address the silencing of marginalized perspectives.

The Conservatory was subject to a high degree of criticism throughout Monday’s solidarity events. Points of concern included a lack of support for students of color and a dearth of curricular attention to music outside the Western tradition.

The Jewish community has also rallied together in response to the past month’s incidents of hate speech. Samia Mansour, OC ’10 and Jewish Student Life Coordinator, said that Jewish students met this week to express their concerns and reactions to recent anti-Semitic hate speech within a Jewish context.

“We discussed the impact of the greater Jewish community and how we can work as allies with other communities,” Mansour said. “I felt as though a lot of positive things came out of our response, once people were able to express their emotions we were able to brainstorm possible ways to move forward.”

Other discussions grew from Monday’s conversations, including calls for institutional and administrative reforms. Many voiced a desire to see more diversity — ethnic, cultural and economic — within the student body, faculty and staff. One proposed solution was the reimplementation of a need-blind admissions policy.