Alumni Journalist Convocation Did Not Reflect Oberlin’s Values

“Dissent is what founded this country, and dissent is what’s going to save us.” -Amy Goodman

Last Thursday, four mainstream journalists, all alumni, joined President Krislov for the first Convocation of the year to discuss their unique perspectives on the upcoming elections. On Friday, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! spoke about the role of the media in domestic and international politics at First Church. In the past, Convocation speeches have been inspiring and empowering. Often, they challenge the way we think about the world and force us to see it from a new perspective. However, in this Convocation, we felt no challenge was presented to the student body and community. While we recognize the importance of supporting alumni and learning from their experiences, we hold independent and critical thought in a higher regard. We are disappointed by what the College chose to present to us. We are frustrated by how these alumni responded to questions that asked them to critically reflect on their role in politics as members of the media. Amy Goodman’s talk was engaging and critical; it was an address to the world and to the Oberlin community, and more importantly, it was a call to action. On the other hand, the four journalists from Thursday’s Convocation presented a world in which the media is forced to cover sensationalist topics instead of deeper, and perhaps more complicated, issues. We believe the College chose journalists based on fame and not content. What type of journalism, then, does our administration expect of the Review, the Grape, Fearless and Loathing, WOBC News, and others, when these role models fail to critically analyze their own role in this field?

Throughout her speech, Amy Goodman referred to the concept of “trickle-up journalism”: reporting in which journalists take the initiative to get out in the field and report stories that often go unnoticed by mainstream media. Once those stories are discovered, mainstream media adopts the ones which they find most important.

Creative and innovative action is what Oberlin College encourages its students to pursue. We are encouraged to take up the cause of grassroots movements, to challenge the status quo, and to find solutions that enable us to change the world. In our classes and during our breaks, we seek opportunities that are not mainstream and contribute to community organizations and causes. This is trickle-up-activism. Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! model the kind of work Oberlin College claims to promote.

Why then was Amy’s message not more eagerly endorsed by the College? Why did the College not consider including Amy in the Convocation? True, she is not an Oberlin alumnus, but why is her message of trickle-up-activism left out of an important event that launches our school year and promotes the type of action and thought Oberlin College supports? There are Oberlin-alumni journalists similar to Amy Goodman, including Alice Ollstein and Eilís O’Neill at Free Speech Radio News, and Deena Guzder at Democracy Now!, to name a few. Why were they not invited?

Universities and colleges are beacons of free speech and serve as a refuge for thinkers and activists; they promote critical, reflective, and expansive thinking and conversations. In this instance, the administration of Oberlin College did not uphold these values; they limited them. Senior staff rewrote and cut substantial portions of Senior President A.D. Hogan’s opening speech that they deemed too “critical” and “insulting” to the visiting journalists. We see this as an infringement on Hogan’s right to speak freely and to critically challenge the ideas and practices of these journalists, and more importantly, an infringement on students’ right to have Hogan as a spokesperson. Current students like to think that we’re continuing the legacy of dissent and activism that is crucial to the College. In this instance, the College fell short of that legacy.

We hope that this letter is read by students, the President’s office, the administration, and alumni. Our goal is to encourage students to dissent and challenge the things they find fault in at this school and in their education. Likewise, we want to encourage the administration to live up to the ideals and legacy of this institution, and to converse with the student body about our genuine interests and goals. We feel that the student body must remember one thing: the mainstream media may be fearless, but the work of independent media, like Democracy Now!, can change the world, and so can we.


Maggie Heraty ‘14, Ness Smith-Savedoff ‘14, and A.D. Hogan ‘13