Oberlin’s Community Created by its Students

Recently, an article that appeared on www.jezebel.com titled “Oberlin Has a Nasty Anonymous Message Board Problem” (Dec. 5, 2012) sparked vibrant discussion in online alumni networks. Several of us decided that, as recently-graduated alumni, we should weigh in.

The problem of online bullying, particularly targeting women, queers and racial minorities, is far from unique. But we are appalled to think that such a thing is happening, and to such an extreme degree, at Oberlin. Oberlin may not be a traditionalist institution, but the traditions we do have — including feminism, inclusion, sex positivity, social justice, cooperation, and weirdness — are precious, and the tenor of this forum degrades all of them. What attracted us to Oberlin was the hope of finding other strange people like us, and what keeps it fondly in our hearts is that we did.

Some of us were around for the precursor of ObieTalk, Oberlin Confessional, and before that, a series of anonymous threads on the Oberlin LiveJournal community. These started as a place to release anxieties, secret crushes and frustrations. However, without exception, they rapidly became hateful environments. Some of us were personally attacked, in ways that deeply affected us. But there were also friends, in real life and in the forums, who stood up for us and made sure we were okay. We strongly condemn the behavior of the anonymous bullies. But we know that those doing the bullying, stirring up drama and trolling for lulz are probably not listening. So instead we want to speak to all those who have been affected, both directly and indirectly. Live up to the best traditions of Oberlin by standing up to racism, misogyny and homophobia wherever they manifest, but particularly in your own home. Even if you don’t know the victim of bullying, calling it out helps everyone. It is you, through your action or inaction, who gives this speech its power. If you do value spaces like ObieTalk, then don’t sit idly by, but call out the hate and defend one another. An online community that is not given importance or maintained eventually withers. Oberlin Confessional still exists, but it is overlooked. It is powerless because nobody uses it. We are sympathetic to the plight of those who are unable to ignore it when they are directly targeted. To everyone else, we call on you not to engage with this forum, not to give it power. The right to free speech is precious, but not all speech must be heeded. Those who bully should have to bring their cruelty into the real world, where they cannot hide behind anonymity.

It is up to you to ensure that Oberlin is a space safe from hate speech, slut-shaming and personal attacks. You create the social norms that make Oberlin a place we are eager to tell our oddball teenage cousins to consider attending. You have the power to improve the climate on your campus, so Oberlin remains the place we all love.