A Different Approach to a New Semester

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my column and advocacy from the spring semester. In preparation for this last piece before the summer, I wanted to look through my catalog and see what’s available to wrap up. Throughout my reading, I found a few key takeaways to guide my writing and lifestyle for the near future. 

First, I realize the majority of my semester has involved criticizing Oberlin’s administration or policies. Unfortunately, my “success” rate with getting the school to improve its practices has not been the best. On Feb. 10, I released a piece talking about the school’s repeated inability to be proactive in improving mental health resources. Rather than paraphrasing what I already made clear, I’ll simply restate the following from said article: “I felt like most of the work for ‘getting help’ fell on me — sending emails, taking time out of my limited schedule — instead of the College, which should proactively offer resources.” Months later, I feel essentially the same way and am dreading the upcoming semester, where many of my concerns will likely hit closer to home. While being on Student Senate, I worked with the Disability Equity Working Group to get us more than three days off this semester. Sadly, we were unsuccessful in this endeavor, and we still have only three days off planned for the summer. 

I’d like to say my articles about Oberlin’s mistakes and missteps were more successful, but I’m not sure if they are. My piece criticizing SOAR and taking particular issues with its gentrification panel went largely unheard. For those who’ve forgotten, the SOAR panel had a 5:1 ratio of white to Black people talking about gentrification, and another issue of representation came up only two weeks later. Instead of taking the opportunity to reflect or improve, the Conservatory hosted an all-white faculty recital for “A Celebration of Black Artistry,” on the last day of Black History Month. My article about the Conservatory’s viral flier was actually my most widely-read column, but it felt like a mere “I told you so” moment, which is not encouraging. I already felt like I was talking to a brick wall, and nothing has improved much since that piece’s release. Black students and allies simply did what we would any other time Oberlin drops the ball. We held a proper celebration of Black History with the Black Renaissance event — as the famous saying goes, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” 

After the event, the College and Conservatory predictably posted about the success of Black Renaissance without much self-reflection. There was no acknowledgment of why the event transpired, and I feel it was merely tokenized as another successful Black event. They couldn’t even be bothered to pay the events’ organizers or performers, despite their haste to market the event. The Conservatory’s horrible apology — in which it avoided accountability and listed off previous anti-racism statements and efforts from Oberlin — remains on its social media platforms and website. We had a few conversations about what happened, but they were just conversations with no meaningful change in sight.

Even after everything I’ve said and my trending article condemning Oberlin’s approach and response to the rising problematic race relations situation, the College still learned nothing from my words. Black students held an independent vigil for the murder of Daunte Wright in Tappan Square mere weeks ago. The bare minimum they could have received was institutional backing and approval, but even this was too much for Oberlin. The organizers had to fight hard and were threatened with being kicked off campus before the College eventually backed down and allowed the event. This blatant disregard for the needs or trauma of the Black community would be bad enough, but administrators were not content with merely delaying this event’s approval. The College reposted photos from the vigil in a now-deleted Instagram post, despite multiple requests from multiple organizers for no pictures to be taken. Again, the College rushed in to take credit for an important event organized by students to support the Black community, one in which they initially didn’t even want to take place. The College did not even try to release an apology for this, and I’m not shocked. With the speedy destruction of the evidence of this wrongdoing and no explanation, I’m left to assume Oberlin is either too incompetent to give us a proper apology, or the College did not think giving us one was a priority. Either way, I’m not amused. 

To be blunt, I’m not sure where to go from here because none of my immediate options seem very promising. I don’t want to continue writing variations of the same article and reiterating the same criticisms if none of it will truly change things. It’s honestly demoralizing to be proven right constantly but never receive the tools or support to fix anything. Being in Student Senate has allowed me to have more power and influence to get things done, but my power is limited. When something as simple as trying to coordinate on issues like getting students their lost items takes months, I’m not encouraged to continue trying in an unsupportive work environment with people who are unappreciative of my help. To be very clear, most senators aren’t the ones responsible for this environment. I love many of my colleagues and only empathize with them as they try to navigate similar situations as I’ve outlined. 

It’s very telling that the most “positive” piece I’ve written all semester had a focus on taking time away from most of my Oberlin responsibilities. “In Pursuit of Black Joy features me at my happiest, and that’s because I took time for myself instead of trying to fight for everyone else. I think I need to bring that attitude and approach to survive the on-campus semesters to come. Last week, I began experiencing a series of anxiety symptoms from the pressure of some jobs, the upcoming semester, and the constant Black trauma on the news and social media. I began experiencing heart palpitations, had trouble sleeping, and was generally on edge. I’ve been to the doctor and gotten both medication and counseling referrals, but these solutions are ultimately temporary. My previous piece on Black Joy and the reflections I’ve done while writing this one have made me realize one of the answers to my anxiety. 

The most radical act to benefit Black people I’ve participated in so far is rest, and I believe that’s what’s best for me now. There will always be time to speak out and fight for what’s right, but I can’t do that work consistently unless I also rest and recuperate when it’s needed. I think I should consider some new positions for the near future and take a moment for myself. Who knows? Maybe some time off will give my writing some time to sink in.