Hateful Speech Not ‘Isolated Incident’

We are the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People, and we are writing to condemn the recent trend of hateful speech attacking marginalized communities on campus. We are acting in solidarity with the Multicultural Resource Center and other student and faculty organizers to address harm caused by racism, queerphobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of structural oppression.

The ELC is a collective that is committed to dismantling interconnected systems of oppression based on sex, gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, size, religion, nationality, ethnicity and language. We serve as a safe space for programming and conversation. We also respect and advocate for the creation of other safe and supportive spaces on campus.

Given our mission statement and commitment to challenging oppression, we are deeply angry and hurt by the recent escalation of anonymous hate speech on campus. While we acknowledge the pain and fear caused by these blatant attacks, we wish to emphasize and bring attention to the microaggressions that individuals face on Oberlin’s campus as a part of their daily lives. We must hold each other accountable for condemning visible acts of violence and should think critically about how our daily speech and actions perpetuate these oppressive structures.

We acknowledge that these incidents are reflective of power dynamics on campus and are by no means “isolated incidents.” While Oberlin is known for its progressive politics and commitment to equality, the incidents of the past week are a part of a long legacy of visible and invisible violence toward marginalized communities. Our center’s namesake, Edmonia Lewis, is frequently touted as a symbol of Oberlin’s inclusivity. Lewis was one of the first women of color accepted to the college. However, what is often left out of her story is her departure from Oberlin because of extreme mental and physical harassment from fellow students. A century and a half later, we continue to witness shameful incidents, such as the racial and homophobic graffiti on Dascomb’s walls (spring 2011), the vandalism of Afrikan Heritage House (spring 2012), and the recent vandalism of Third World House earlier this year, as well as constant vitriolic speech found on anonymous web forums like ObieTalk.

In response to this week’s events, the ELC wishes to re-emphasize to the Oberlin community that we are a safe space that exists for open and respectful dialogue. We have witnessed and participated in a number of demonstrations that have occurred this week, including the “March of Solidarity” (Feb. 13) as well as “Stand Up, Sit In” (Feb. 14). At this moment when our communities are angry and hurting, we recognize that we have earned the right to heal. We are opening up our space to allow for both venting as well as supportive community healing on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. We hope that through respect, support, solidarity and meaningful allyship, our communities can continue to grow and empower themselves.