College Should Be Held Accountable for Unfair No Trespass List

Kevin Gilfether

Oberlin College has a long- standing and proud history of enriching the educational experience for people in the Oberlin community at large. This rich history includes many College students tutoring and mentoring schoolchildren, numerous field trips to Oberlin’s campus by students in the city schools, campus-based tutoring and mentoring through programs like WAVE and the Ninde Scholars and a scholarship program specifically dedicated to absorbing the costs of tuition at Oberlin College for students from the Oberlin City Schools. Beyond these mere academic opportunities, there is the vibrant culture that comes from living in a college town with an international population, a research library open to public library members, a world-class art museum and great speakers, concerts and performances almost every day of the academic year.

Clearly, Oberlin College has resources and is interested in investing them not just in its students, but in the community at large. This is still to say nothing of Oberlin’s vast historical legacy of educational equity as the first U.S. college to accept black students as a matter of principle and to accept women into a coeducational degree program. We know from historical examination that such a legacy is far from perfect, though, as the story of Edmonia Lewis can show us. Similarly, many are excluded from tak- ing full advantage of many of these resources and enriching the Oberlin College community because of Oberlin College’s No Trespass List. Oberlin’s mission of educational equity and its No Trespass List are at odds.

For those not in the know, Oberlin College Safety & Security maintains a No Trespass List. If found on College property not deemed suitably public (Tappan Square or the grounds of Mercy Allen Hospital might be public enough), a person on the No Trespass List can be charged with criminal trespass. Persons are typically put on the list because they are accused of some sort of act or acts deemed criminal or against Oberlin College community regulations by Safety & Security. Once on the list, a person might have a very hard time getting off. One must wait a year to even petition for removal from the list, and that process consists of a vaguely specified review by the director of Safety & Security and poten- tially a panel of administrators. Occasionally, persons might be removed from the list without petitioning, at the discretion of the director of Safety & Security, but usually without any notice given to the person. This is almost certainly too vague and doesn’t put enough accountability on the College to make responsible decisions about who should be on the No Trespass List and why. If you live in Oberlin, getting put on this list makes about half of your town inaccessible to you. That is a serious consideration, and the people with the ability to impose this measure must realize the ability that such a power has to make life very difficult for those people.

The No Trespass List almost certainly includes a fair number of people banned because of violent acts or seriously harmful behavior, and it is totally reasonable to have measures to deal with those situations. Many are not, though, and even violent offenders who indisputably should have had measures taken against them deserve a fair adjudication process.

I write with no sweeping suggestions, just two small proposals. First, I ask that the College investigate ways that minors put on the list could be automatically brought up for consideration a few weeks or months after their entry onto the list, except in extraordinary cases such as severe violence. For most youth, a year is too long to be kept from the fantastic educational opportunities Oberlin College makes available, and most youth can change a lot in even a few short weeks, if given the proper support.

My second proposal is that the procedure for getting off the list be more clearly defined, with a publicly available and circulated document describing more specifically the rights one has and the steps that could be taken to get off of the No Trespass List.

The standards of this No Trespass List are very probably just fine by the letter of Ohio law. The question we should consider, though, isn’t whether those standards are legal, but whether they are the way we want our community to be organized. Do we want a community where the fantastic benefits of the College are limited because of a poor decision? Do we want a community where people who might contribute a significant amount to the Oberlin community are kept away? Do we want  a college behind gates, with no gates? If we do not move to ad- dress the problems with our current system, the answer to all three seems to be “yes.”