Editorial: Oberlin Community Deserved More Information

The Editorial Board

Last week, a combined racial and homophobic slur was spray-painted onto the side of Dascomb, an action that elicited an immediate reaction from the College and student body. The Editorial Board wholeheartedly supports the silent vigil and what it stood for; rather than embark on a witch hunt, those organizing the event sought to bring people together to symbolize the Oberlin community’s sentiment that the slurs were hurtful, regardless of their context.

When a hateful message appears in our community, we must be able to show support in whatever way we can without fear of judgment, and it is important to remember that the best response to an incident such as this is to look for ways to improve our support network. For their swift responses, the Editorial Board applauds both Student Senate and the administration. However, the responses were incomplete.

We question the decision of institutions on campus to inform the entire student body of the incident via e-mail while simultaneously withholding information, even as it became available. No organization with access to the student listserv revealed that the writer of the graffiti identified as both African-American and queer. Although this information does not excuse what was written, it did add context to the action for some students, and those students had the right to receive the information once it was known.

The Africana and LGBTQ communities at Oberlin deserved to know that the individual behind the graffiti claimed he never planned to physically harm those communities. Other discussions aside, that important information was never clearly articulated.

Misinformation was also perpetuated by ambiguous descriptions of the content of the graffiti. Many students who did not see the graffiti in person were confused about what specific words or images were painted on Dascomb, as the vandalism was referred to in the e-mails as simply “hateful words” or “racist and homophobic slander.” Students who did not see the graffiti before it was removed may have thought the vandalism named individuals or promised future action. It was not necessary to repeat the slurs in their messages, but the authors of the e-mails should have been clear about what the slur was not.

This same argument applies to the Office of the President’s decision to alert students to the second instance of vandalism while omitting details regarding the graffiti’s content. Students had no way to judge for themselves whether the second graffiti was related to the first, and this encouraged the worst of conclusions.

If organizations with access to our e-mail addresses — Student Senate, the Office of the President, and ResEd — feel comfortable acting as a news source, then they have a responsibility to play that role completely, objectively and without exception so members of our community can make an informed decision for themselves.

It is condescending for anyone to dictate what information the community on the whole needs to make an informed decision. The messages communicated by the Office of the President and the concerned communities — as well as the awkwardly late response of ResEd — attempted to reassure the community by withholding information. Despite their good wishes, the result was the opposite of their intentions: The lack of information spread anxiety and encouraged false assumptions.

Though we now know the graffiti was more complicated than a straightforward act of hate speech, it is crucial to recognize that Oberlin is not immune to bigotry. As an educated community, we must understand that the way to deal with such complex and troubling situations is to look the facts in the face, discuss these facts with other concerned members of the community and move forward together.