Obies Should Explore Ohio

When my college counselor first suggested I apply to Oberlin at the end of 11th grade, I was skeptical. I had heard wonderful things about the College from older students and from my high school advisor, who graduated from Oberlin in 1972, but I had already decided that I had to go to school on one of the coasts. Ohio was the last place I wanted to go. I didn’t know much about the state besides that it was where Glee took place and its politics were generally more conservative than what I saw at home in the Northeast. It seemed like the type of place where a queer, liberal 18-year-old would probably be prudent not to spend too much time. Still, I added it to my list, albeit mostly to humor the Oberlin advocates in my life.

Because of the pandemic, there were very few colleges I was able to visit that summer. I wasn’t comfortable flying, and most of the schools within driving distance of home weren’t allowing tours. Oberlin was close enough that we could visit without having to fly, and it was hosting tours. Having decided I should visit at least one school that summer, my mom, dad, and I drove out to Oberlin and took a tour of the campus. I fell in love immediately. 

After a few months of contemplation, I applied early decision. I was willing to overlook the whole Ohio thing on the basis that I’d spend all my time on campus, where I was unlikely to run into very many conservatives. What I couldn’t have anticipated, however, was that I would come to fall in love with the state.

At the end of my senior year, I happened to see the announcement that the now former mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley, was running for governor. As the school year wrapped up, I reached out and volunteered to do a small bit of remote work for her campaign before I began the summer internships I had secured. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly. Maybe it was a desire to network with political people who worked near where I would be spending the bulk of my next four years, or maybe it was the distinct sense that whatever happened in Ohio politically would have a direct impact on my life as a student here. It was probably a combination of both. 

I continued my work on the campaign over my first Winter Term. I spent three weeks in Dayton calling donors, managing spreadsheets, vetting ballot petition signatures, and working a campaign event in Mason, near Cincinnati. Everyone who worked in the office was good-natured, had a great sense of humor, and was willing to talk about my newfound favorite game, Wordle. I spent a lovely 50 minutes in the car with our finance manager talking about Ohio politics, school, and bad Boston drivers en route to our campaign event, where I saw so many wonderful and passionate people who were determined to change the state for the better. I spent my evenings going to shows at an improv theater near my Airbnb, put on by brilliantly witty people in a city I had dreaded spending time in until I got there. 

I can now say I care about Ohio, not just because whatever happens here will impact me, but because I love the state and feel a kinship to it. I occasionally slip up and accidentally call myself an Ohioan, when, on second thought, I’ve only been here since October so the name is probably premature. I find myself thinking about a future that involves staying and working here after I graduate.

In the eyes of many Obies, especially those of us from the coasts, Oberlin is the only part of Ohio worth getting to know. We fly into Cleveland and get straight onto the airport shuttle. We never venture beyond the City limits while we’re here, preferring to stay in our small, liberal town, and we spend our breaks and Winter Terms at home. We seek out internships in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. We love and care deeply about the College, but we have no interest in what surrounds it. 

I have heard some of my friends jokingly refuse to acknowledge that they chose to go to school in Ohio, preferring instead to pretend that Oberlin is really in California, or perhaps that it was picked up by the wind from Massachusetts — campus, faculty, students, and all — and just landed here by happenstance. I understand that feeling. If I had not had the opportunity to work closely with real Ohioans, I would probably feel the same way. 

I’m not saying you have to spend three weeks in a city across the state for your Winter Term. It’s okay if the only internships you ever do are in New York City, San Francisco, or D.C. and you spend every break at home. Maybe call nonprofits in the state and ask if you could put in a few hours of volunteering remotely, or take a day trip into Cleveland and strike up some conversations while you’re there. All I ask is that you find some way, no matter how small, to connect with people who live in Ohio outside Oberlin’s city limits. I think you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.