Obies Make Us Hopeful

Well, here we are. It’s the last week of classes and, as planned, Oberlin students have gone home — many of us scattered to childhood bedrooms across the country to finish final projects and exams. At the beginning of the year, the possibility of a successful semester felt unpredictable at best, unlikely at worst. In our first editorial of the year, we said that returning to campus was an experiment. We had faith that faculty and administrators had been thoughtful in crafting a plan and we trusted ourselves and peers to remain responsible — but even in the best circumstances, it was unclear whether we could pull this off. 

Now, off-campus and a semester older, we know the plan worked! As of Nov. 30, the ObieSafe site reported that only 28 tests out of a total 11,135 administered this semester were positive, putting the positivity rate at 0.24 percent. That’s almost exactly on par with the testing statistics from the start of school in September — putting our faith in Obies paid off for our campus community. 

But, as we learned last week, the spring semester will be delayed, and we’re not out of the woods yet. While on-campus COVID-19 numbers were low this semester, Lorain County has now reached a Level Four Public Emergency for spread, with 2,285 new cases in the past two weeks — and more spread across the country. While we are disappointed to postpone our return to campus, it’s numbers like these that make us understand why this is necessary. 

This semester Obies have proven capable of making sacrifices and doing the work — and COVID-19 wasn’t this semester’s only calamity. This November also brought a brutal election, played out over one long week. While this election year Tappan Square did not spontaneously erupt into festivities as it did eight years ago when President Barack Obama was elected to a second term, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. While many within our Oberlin community are not so hopeful that a new president — especially a white, male centrist — can fix the deep inequalities built into our country, we hope that this change will make the political, social, and humanitarian work of many in the Oberlin community more fruitful. 

In the midst of the pandemic and all its new restrictions and hardships, it could have been easy for us to step back, to write this semester off. But student organizers, senators, volunteers, and leaders showed up. 

This past election season, students spent months working on campaigns and registering voters. Others are looking beyond electoral organizing. First-years Vera Grace Menafee and WD Williams-Derry recently founded a new student organization tentatively named The People’s Assembly dedicated to radical Black feminism and community-based advocacy. Around Oberlin, we see a strategic and clever effort to work both within systems and outside of them. 

Institutionally, our college has grown as well. While Oberlin College and Conservatory is not perfect, our school has made new commitments that live up to its progressive reputation. This year, the Conservatory created an extensive action plan for increasing the diversity and equity of Oberlin’s music education as part of the Presidential Initiative. This plan hearkens back to decades of student activism and is the culmination of a legacy of Obies who challenged their institution to be better. 

The College has become a founding member of the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance — a group that President Ambar hopes will become an impactful voice for change nationwide. President Ambar is dedicated to the College’s history of being a leader in the progressive fight and has long urged students to look outward and commit themselves to major issues in the world. 

And all of this amid a once-in-a-century pandemic.

This week we got word that the U.K. has approved the use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer. It’s too soon to tell, but if all goes well we could be looking at herd immunity by summertime. As the light begins to beam faintly at the end of this tunnel, we want to acknowledge the community care that Obies exhibited this semester; staying distanced while still remaining close — by mobilizing student organization efforts, by harnessing the new energy of first-year students, and by committing to the fervent spirit of growth and learning that characterizes our school. 

We should all be holding this semester’s trials and the collective grief of COVID-19 close to our hearts. In the harsh, illuminating light of the pandemic’s destruction, we’ve learned that governments and their priorities don’t save us — our communities do. We’re all grateful for this resilient Oberlin community, and we can’t wait to see you next semester.