Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Decision to Hold Class Reunions During Homecoming Draws Criticism from Alumni

Photo courtesy of Clarissa Heart
Wilder Bowl during a recent reunion.

This year Oberlin will hold most class reunions during Homecoming weekend, ending a longstanding tradition of holding all reunions during the week of Commencement. The 25th and 50th anniversary reunions will still be held in the spring, but cluster reunions are scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 1. The change has provoked criticism from many alumni. A petition requesting the return of Commencement-week reunions and criticizing the College’s lack of transparency and poor communication with alumni has gained over 1,200 signatures as of Friday. 

“We love Oberlin College and want to support it to the best of our abilities and circumstances,” the petition reads. “This major change regarding the timing and off-campus accommodations for the reunion is alienating many of us at a time when the College needs our financial support more than ever.”

The petition, launched on the site, details the reasons why alumni are upset over the change. Lisa Freiman, OC ’89, who started the petition, said the complaints listed were compiled from discussions within Facebook groups of various class years going back to the 1960s. 

According to the petition, the new meeting time makes attendance difficult for teachers and professors, for whom the reunion falls in the middle of the semester, and for Conservatory alumni, many of whom work as professional musicians and often have weekend gigs. The petition also points out that the fall dates frequently coincide with Jewish high holidays. Signers of the petition also express disappointment with not being able to stay in campus dorms,  ending a tradition that they found meaningful.

“The spring reunions are special precisely because they are tied to graduation, allowing alumni to remember those very special moments in their lives and to ensure (through gifts) that what makes Oberlin unique remains,” the petition reads.

Assistant Vice President for Alumni Engagement Terry Kurtz said that positive feedback from alumni about the fall reunion times contributed to the change. Kurtz also identified logistical concerns with housing alumni on campus as a factor in the decision. 

“Oberlin’s executive leadership team had reviewed the ability to effectively turn over dorms in the short timeframe between the departure of students and the arrival of alumni guests, and alumni satisfaction with dorm accommodations,” Kurtz said. “Those factors led to the determination that on-campus housing for alumni was not practical moving forward.”

A release from the Office of Communications announcing the change Aug. 4 mentioned the burden imposed by housing logistics and suggested potential benefits of having the reunion at a time when classes are in session.

“Over the past two years, as Oberlin emerged from the pandemic, several reunion classes and clusters held successful fall reunions,” the release reads. “Attendees reported fun and meaningful experiences during their return to a campus in full swing.”

Kurtz also mentioned how holding a reunion during the semester would allow students and alumni to connect. 

“We have intentionally built schedules for both spring and fall to provide alumni with a wide array of connection points throughout the College and Conservatory,” Kurtz said. “We also know that student connections are made during both times of year, through formal and informal interactions, whether those are happening through alumni visits to classes, attendance at concerts or athletics events, hanging out at The ’Sco, or enjoying Illumination on Tappan Square.”

Illumination is a long-held Oberlin tradition where Japanese lanterns are strung up and lit around campus. It began in 1860 in celebration of the election of Abraham Lincoln and has happened almost every year since. Illumination has historically been held during Commencement & Reunion Weekend, but this year will occur during Homecoming week to accommodate the reunions.

Freiman and other alumni who signed the petition feel that staying on campus is an integral part of the reunion experience, and that the symbolic tie between Commencement-week reunions and graduation makes the tradition worth preserving. 

“Commencement Weekend is about coming home,” Freiman said. “Home is not staying in a hotel in Elyria or North Olmsted. We want to be in Oberlin. … [The school] always made [on-campus reunion housing] work before, because the tradition was sacred.”

Freiman said she spoke with College administrators who said they do not have plans to change the reunion times. She views the school’s lack of transparency surrounding the decision as a major threat to institutional integrity and good relations with alumni.

“I started seeing bits and pieces of information trickling in online and on Facebook about the fact that the reunion was being moved from Commencement Weekend to the fall, and that the [Office of Advancement] and the [Office of Alumni Engagement] had decided to make the change with the support of the President and senior leadership of the College,” Freiman said. “It was a total shock to all of us because there had been zero communication. … Many alumni are worried that the College’s wall of silence with alumni and its lack of willingness to engage in any open and sincere dialogue about any of these issues is beyond troubling  [and is] putting the College at major risk.”

Ted Gest, OC ’68, Alumni Leadership Council member and 1968 class ambassador, holds a different opinion on the change.

“I think the jury is still out on the change,” Gest said. “Some of my classmates don’t like it — they miss Commencement, they have to stay in hotels and say that Homecoming weekend isn’t a big Oberlin tradition. … I don’t have a firm opinion now about the change. [I] will be out there in a couple of weeks and will assess. One advantage of fall reunions might be that classes are going on.”

Professor and Director of Musicology Charles McGuire, OC ’92,  also saw both benefits and drawbacks to fall reunions.

“Fall in Oberlin is beautiful, not too warm, and holding reunions then gives alumni an opportunity to see the institution as it is, not just devoid of most students besides graduates,” McGuire said. “I just wish there were more infrastructure available in town for alumni to stay; driving in from the cities around us is not ideal.”

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