On Sunday, April 17, Safety and Security was alerted to graffiti spray-painted on the exterior south side of Dascomb Hall that combined a racial and a homophobic slur. A student claimed responsibility late Monday night, confessing in an e-mail to Student Senate.
The student met with a Student Senate member on Wednesday and said that the graffiti was not in reference to a Derrick Comedy skit, an internet sketch comedy group from New York University, which used language similar to that was written on Dascomb. The graffiti, which was not acknowledged or removed by the College until Monday evening, raised frustration and concern among the student body, sparking a protest, discussion panels and questions about whether Oberlin College is living up to its mission of social justice.
While speaking with Student Senate, the individual said that he did not intend the graffiti as an act of hatred and expressed remorse for his actions, Savitri Sedlacek, a Student Senator, said. She also said that the student in question is an African American and queer.
By 2:30 p.m. on Monday, a group calling itself “the concerned communities within your student body” sent an e-mail through the Student Senate student body listserv announcing the vandalism and a silent protest that several students had organized for later that day. At 4:30 p.m. a group gathered around the graffiti as a gesture of solidarity, not only with the Africana and LGBTQ community, but also with residents of Dascomb Hall.
“We really wanted to make the bodies visible,” said College senior Haydee Souffrant, one of the students who helped organize the event. “To have everybody visibly there and putting a face … and bodies to what was being attacked really … set the stage for a very critical analysis about every community that’s been attacked.”
Other groups, including Oberlin’s Multicultural Resource Center, Student Senate and Abusua, have been working towards discussing this incident as part of an ongoing problem surrounding issues of class, race and community in Oberlin. As the Student Senate is hosting a Community Symposium this week and next week, the hateful messages on Dascomb’s wall have been given some context and a place to be discussed.
College sophomore and Student Senate liason Ilyssa Meyer noted that “there were over 120 people in the room at one point” for Monday’s Community Symposium about safe spaces in Oberlin. “A lot of people showed up … because of the graffiti,” Meyer said.
Student Senate also hosted a panel to discuss the incident specifically, which was held on Thursday alongside the already-planned “LGBTQ YOU” panel.
In a collaborated e-mail, Nicole Nfonoyim and Asher Kolieboi, MRC Community Coordinators for the Africana and LGBTQ communities, respectively, stated, “We are encouraging people to see this difficult moment as being oppressive to everyone at Oberlin who opposes racism and homophobia regardless of how they identify.” The MRC staff attended and participated in a Student Senate forum on Sunday that addressed the incident, and continues to support students in issues about community.
Abusua, Oberlin’s black student coalition, met with the General Faculty on Wednesday and with President Krislov Thursday afternoon.
Much of the concern surrounding the graffiti stems from the College’s delay not only in removing the spray paint, but also in acknowledging that the event occurred.
Krislov sent an email to faculty, staff and students at 5:30 p.m. Monday. He wrote, “We deplore and condemn this act. … We do know that this act was antithetical to our values and hurts all members of our community, and for that we are sad and angry.” He also said that this incident should be used to “embrace each other and to consider how these values can be reflected in all corners of our community and our world.”
Krislov and Linda Gates, Dean of Students, sent an updated e-mail Tuesday, affirming their dedication to a “fair and responsive” process to ensure safety and accountability in response to incidents of this nature.
But some were upset the e-mail didn’t come sooner.
“The delay was terrible and shows how little [the administration] care[s] about the Africana community here and how [little] they really care about the diversity. When Krislov sent the e-mail, it was nothing. It was just throwing something out there, just to appease people with,” said Taylor Johnson, College sophomore and co-chair of Abusua.
“For me, being queer, that’s hurtful in many ways … [the combined slurs] together is just terrible,” Johnson said.
In response to the students’ frustrations about the delay, President Krislov told the Review on Thursday that he “didn’t find out about the incident until Monday morning.” In regard to the e-mail sent out to the student body that some students found vague and dismissive, President Krislov explained, “There was an investigation and we were trying to figure out what had happened. We issued a statement because we did think it was important to say something … [but] one wants to be careful about issuing statements without knowing at least the basics … given that it was a weekend, frankly, the communication channels did not work as well as we would have liked them to and there’s a committee that [Vice President for Communications] Ben Jones and [Dean of Students] Linda Gates are working on to try and work on that.”
Many students felt that this incident is merely part of a larger problem that needs to be discussed in Oberlin, and should be a catalyst for discussions of class, race, homosexuality and other issues about community in Oberlin.
College senior Kyla Moore, who helped organize the silent protest, said, “If there wasn’t a larger context of daily infractions going on, using any type of slur — race, sex, sexuality — [this] would be an isolated incident … one person, doing one thing … [but] it becomes part of a chorus of things going on. [The graffiti] was the one visible moment, regardless of who put it up there … for the campus to see the physical representation of things that have been going on amorphously for my entire four years here.”
On a similar note, College senior Caitlin O’Neill acknowledged that “there’s a power [in graffiti] … it’s not always a positive one, but it’s one that I think we’ve managed to channel in some kind of way to work toward something. It’s more than just words on a wall. It’s about people, ultimately. How do we make that clear, and how do we have that discussion?”