An Open Letter to the Oberlin Community

We are writing to respond to Katie J. M. Baker’s December 5 posting “Oberlin Has a Nasty Anonymous Message Board Problem” on the widely read website Baker sought to point out the dangers of unmoderated forums where people can post comments without consequence. Included in the article was a screenshot of a series of posts on ObieTalk from last spring, obtained under less than honest pretense.

The screenshot included deplorable misogynistic, racist, queerphobic, heterosexist and violent material that contained clearly identifiable names of Oberlin students. By publishing the article, Jezebel reinforced harm done to those named as well as others who may have faced similar threats in the past. In addition, we believe Jezebel should have included a trigger warning so that visitors would be better prepared to read something that could be potentially harming.

ObieTalk and other anonymous posting boards have occupied complex spaces on Oberlin’s campus. Although providing space to discuss a variety of topics, it has also been a site for hate speech and violent threats. After a great deal of protest, the site was taken offline in the spring of 2012, reportedly so that it could be reformatted to accommodate a system for community moderation. The site’s removal did not mean that the people and communities who had been threatened by anonymous postings were safe.

We are critical of ObieTalk as a medium that has allowed for hate speech, intimidation, and threats. We are also critical of Jezebel for attempting to shed light on the subject while reinforcing the harm, but we must also be critical of ourselves both on an individual and institutional level. These are not isolated incidents nor can they be dismissed as the thoughts of a select few. Doing so invalidates and further marginalizes those that have been harmed by what has been posted and those who continually face discrimination on Oberlin’s campus. Simply removing the channels by which hate speech exists does not suddenly make Oberlin a place absent of discrimination. It is important to evaluate the ways in which we continue to be complicit in systems of oppression and the ways we choose to respond. It is time we openly address the historical trauma and legacy of oppression, in light of the romanticized history of Oberlin, so that we may begin the process of healing as a community.