Oberlin School Spirit Complicated by Communal Faults, Uplifted by Intentional Celebration of Success

Attending Oberlin often means emphasizing everything that is wrong with the world. Our student body is a socially conscientious group of people, which is as much a feature of our generation as it is of Oberlin’s long standing tradition of progressiveness. While our communal strength helps us better our world, the result of this mindset is an overwhelming preoccupation with the negativite aspects of it. When this philosophy is applied to our view of Oberlin as an institution, it reveals a uniquely problematic relationship between the student body and our “school spirit.” At many institutions, students have a broadly supportive spirit toward the efforts and investments of their institution, be that sports or financial success. Oberlin is, however, more complicated than that.

Those of us currently on campus live in the aftermath of a defamation lawsuit which cost the College tens of millions of dollars, a controversial series of governance decisions by our trustees, and acute pay limitations for faculty, student workers, and other campus employees. To be constantly confronted with these harsh realities of the way our school functions means that it can feel difficult to feel proud to be an Obie. These issues are ones that we, as a college campus, think about on a regular basis. Little room is left for positive commentary on the institution where we have chosen to live. The same goes for turning up to home games — the odds of Oberlin winning are often low, so most causes for celebration exist in whatever silver linings we can find or the sheer love we have for our peers. As students entrenched in these everyday realities, we’re inundated with all our troubles; as the Editorial Board of the Review, we discuss and edit articles about the failings of our community on an almost weekly basis and find our minds focused on the faults. Our school spirit is negatively impacted by our knowledge and understanding of our institution’s imperfections. 

In this acknowledgement of our imperfections, however, we also should look for reasons to celebrate and be proud of Oberlin. Take, for example, the legacy of professors who have spent time educating here. bell hooks spent six years teaching at Oberlin College, and while it should be noted that hooks had a complicated relationship with Oberlin and educational institutions in general, it is still a legacy that students should be proud of. 

Presently, Oberlin provides us with incredible privileges and opportunities and these are worth acknowledging and celebrating. We have countless opportunities to participate in clubs, travel during Winter Term, and engage in research. Our school’s impressive musical history attracts both Conservatory students and College students alike. This is not to say we should praise Oberlin mindlessly, but that by placing value and finding joy in what we are able to accomplish, we create room for the development of a community we enjoy participating in. This does not diminish the validity of the critiques; rather, these achievements compel us to fight even harder to make the campus even greater. 

At home, we grapple with this aspiration for what we could be and the limitations of what we are, but we don’t allow ourselves to wallow in negativity or hopelessness. Traditionally our desire for the betterment of the institution manifests itself in critique, but that alone can overshadow aspects that should be celebrated. Successes should not be overlooked in our mission for improvement. We believe that there is more room to emphasize faculty published in journals and books, students admitted to top post-graduate programs, or people embracing their dream opportunities amid our critiques and desires to better ourselves and our institution. We can celebrate the everyday oddities, spectacular charms, and fundamental beliefs of our school — all of which exist in the backdrop of our existence but get lost in the overwhelming loudness of everything else. 

School spirit isn’t something that comes the most naturally to us at Oberlin — just consider how rarely we use the phrase on this campus. As yet another cohort of Oberlin students explores what our campus has to offer, we are reminded of the reasons we decided to attend Oberlin in the first place. Whether we came to Oberlin because of its progressive spirit, impressive music, study abroad opportunities or international reputation, we are all here for a reason. Constructing Oberlin College pride must work simultaneously to accommodate the complications that we all know exist, while considering the sheer potential and scope of victories in our community.