Afrikan Heritage House Needs Additional Staff to Thrive

Editors’ Note: This is a revised version of an article that appeared in the Review‘s May 5 print edition.

Oberlin College and Conservatory prides itself on being progressive. From the very beginning, Oberlin stood for change and equality of access to education. I’d even argue that it very closely represented the ideal of what American society should’ve been like at the time of its inception. In 1835, when there was a severe lack of resources for my people, of whom only three-fifths were counted toward their state population, Oberlin was there to give them well-deserved equality in this nation. The institutionʼs progressive views led to the successful education of numerous Black students who came before me, including Mary Church Terrell, OC 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker, Sarah Jane Woodson Early, OC 1856, John Mercer Langston, OC 1849, George Walker, OC 1941, Albert J. McQueen, OC ’52, Robert Nathaniel Dett, OC 1908, Lisa Whitfield, OC ’90, and Courtney-Savali Andrews, OC 1906. The College had produced one-third of all African-American college graduates in the country by 1900. Carmen Twillie Ambar was appointed the College’s first African-American woman president in 2017, and Karen C. Goff was appointed vice president and dean of students in 2021. 

These are, without a doubt, great accomplishments. This institution has done a lot for me and my people. However, there is still much work to be done, as highlighted by the case of Professor Candice Raynor, the director and faculty in residence of Afrikan Heritage House. 

After I inquired about course offerings and potential 2024 A-House Winter Term trips, Professor Raynor said that she couldn’t provide me with specifics for the upcoming year due to not having a contract.

Professor Raynor is the backbone of A-house. It would not only be a detrimental loss to the institution but to the entire Black community on campus if her work and commitment to the community continues to be overlooked by the college administration. With that being said, I want to stand up for Professor Raynor and all of the faculty and staff members whose contributions to this school are constantly being overlooked. 

Professor Raynor goes above and beyond her contractual obligations and fights to create opportunities for all students — especially those within the Black community on this campus. Professor Raynor is much more than the director and faculty in residence of A-House. She leads programming year-round for the Africana community, supports and curates professional development opportunities for Black students, plans commencement events for Black families, upholds A-House traditions, maintains connections with alumni and previous directors of A-House, teaches three to five Africana Studies courses a year, serves as a relatable and approachable mentor for Black students, faculty, and staff, and as is expected of A-House staff, “offer[s] emotional support while facilitating a robust social and cultural experience for the entire campus,” according to the Presidential Initiative. She also raises money for the House and the Black community, without the institution’s help, for programming and Winter Term trips. 

This is way too much to expect from one person. Professor Raynor’s sanity and physical health is too important to expect her do all this work on her own. One could argue she does a lot of work that she doesn’t have to do, but me and a lot of other students like me would respond that it’s work that needs to be done. While the college offers many forms of support for Black students, it isn’t enough. Professor Raynor fills in those gaps and the college needs to recognize this.

The Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity, which came out in 2022, stated that “It is important that A-House has the resources and staff to adequately support all the complexities of its functions.” It later recognizes that “in recent years there has been some discussion about the effectiveness of trying to have one live-in faculty-in-residence take on the responsibility of trying to serve as a program director, a faculty member, and a parent of sorts for students experiencing emotional, academic, social, and/or financial hardship.” The President’s Initiative found that the Faculty in Residence needed assistance-but the Black community on campus already knew this. In the 2015 ABUSUA demands students brought this up to the institution a fellowship was created, which brought Professor Raynor to Oberlin. However, once she became faculty in residence the position was eliminated.
The college showed the community that it was aware of its faults. So why isn’t anything being done to address the issue? “Actions speak louder than words” and currently, Oberlin is saying a lot but doing nothing.
After realizing we couldn’t count on Oberlin’s help, A-house residents tried to come up with our own solutions. We tried finding our own funding for an assistant position. We tried sending letters and setting up meetings with people in charge in hopes of getting answers, but that didn’t make a difference. Now we’re left waiting for the college to finally live up to the promises they made to the Black community. I understand that progress takes time but how long are we expected to wait? Continuously waiting for Oberlin to take action is reminiscent of the long history of waiting that characterizes the African American experience in the US.
Professor Raynor’s work is essential to the Black community on campus, and the college must recognize and support her efforts. For the sake of the current and future members of the Black community in Oberlin, an assistant staff position in A-house must be created. It is time for Oberlin to take action and fulfill its commitment to supporting and maintaining Black life on campus.