On Sunday, Jan. 20, Finney Chapel hosted an event in celebration of the life and inspiring work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event was called “Voices of a Movement.” Attended by College and community members alike, the event was a discussion of the ideals that Dr. King advocated for and embodied: freedom, liberty, equality, education, and unity. We all rejoiced; it was a wonderful event of inclusion.
Events like this are what I truly love about living in this town, but are also something I have taken for granted. I appreciate opportunities for the town and College to come together, but often overlook them. Oberlin is the first town that I’ve lived in where plenty of folks who live in it call it a town. This place also contains a great little college that shares its name. Oberlin is a place that deserves to be shared.
I attended Ohio University in Athens, OH, from 2002-2006. I learned a lot from my time studying at OU, some (quality over quantity) in the classroom and a large amount in the town. It was incredible to be in the environment of knowledge from the institution as well as the knowledge that was about town. One thing that I learned was the feeling of strange imaginary walls. And then there were labels: the college students are entitled or snobby or better off people, and the townies are dangerous or dumb or lazy people. I learned about things that separate people, and I learned that I think this idea is a very bad thing.
The reality was that there were great students and great townies in a great town, and when that sank in, I learned the most. When labels and separations were lost there were just more ideas to learn from and more potential to unlock. There was great music to hear, great discussions, poetry nights, mixed bands, protests against wars, and rallies to hopefully prevent Bush’s 2004 re-election. A lot of people shared fun and shared ideals more often than these divisive labels would suggest.
Athens is very similar to Oberlin in that both host liberal learning institutions which share a space with a smaller, yet amazing town. The towns and the learning institutions influence each other, both positively and negatively; sometimes it can be very difficult to tell where the school ends and the town begins. Oberlin College students, faculty and administrators, along with local townspeople, are bound to share space, things, places, areas, ideas and art; it’s awesome when we do. In many ways, we here in Oberlin have the ability to mix it up with each other and get along swimmingly. However, there are other ways that sharing is made difficult, because the labels and walls are still intact.
It’s very important that any governing body supply the people with safety and security because bad things can happen anywhere and sometimes they do happen. We all have the right to be safe, but how far will the arm of safety go to protect that right? And does using these labels and walls for the purposes of exclusion actually make us safer?
The idea of having a No Trespass list held by the institution establishes boundaries between students and non-students that often exacerbate stereotypes and labels, which in turn creates real safety issues. When people are aware that labels are being placed on them by other individuals or institutions, it is easier for them to live up to those labels. The current state of the No Trespass list helps create and legitimize these labels.
To be fair, there are some people on the No Trespass list who have infringed upon others’ safety. However, there are people on the No Trespass list for things like skateboarding, asking for change, looking like they don’t belong or creating a small but unharmful ruckus. These people are on a sort of house arrest for a minor offense, now afraid to use spaces that should be shared. There are even some people who are at risk of going to jail on account of the No Trespass list. It’s also a list that is incredibly difficult to be removed from and a list that presupposes people can’t change.
In contrast, I’ve seen students enjoying what the town has to offer by doing drugs in bar bathrooms, presenting false identification, creating ruckuses, skateboarding through Tappan and agitating harmful conflicts. But these people are most often welcomed back.
I have heard friends say negative things about students, and sometimes those things are true. I have seen students semi-repulsed by the idea of 20-somethings living in small-town circumstances, but I have also met the opposite. I’ve met students who love this town as much as many other citizens. I know a lot of former students who have set roots down here. I’ve seen the positive opportunities that the College can provide for the people of the town. It’s extra free education for all of us, because everyone can learn about changing the world on a local level.
Oberlin is a vibrant community with a lot of love to share. When one group sees the beauty of the other group, some very real stuff can happen. I’ve been a part of some very real stuff, but I also try to not let labels and stereotypes that are externally imposed take the best of me. Question the No Trespass list and all other forms of separation that keep us from sharing with each other. Dr. King would have wanted it that way.