One Year Later, Campus Commemorates March 4


Zoe Madonna

More than a thousand students gathered in Finney Chapel for a convocation in response to persistent hate-related crimes on last spring’s Day of Solidarity. Zoe Madonna

Rachel Weinstein, News Editor

Students and faculty commemorate the one-year anniversary of Day of Solidarity this week, hosting a series of events and forums in an effort to extend the conversations sparked last spring.

“Some people remember March 4 as the day classes were canceled, and yes, that’s part of what happened, but we have to remember why and what it’s connected to,” said College sophomore and Student Senator Kiki Acey.

In commemoration of last year’s Day of Solidarity, a day which was organized in response to persisting hate-related incidents, nearly a dozen student groups coordinated events to continue the community-wide conversations on oppression and allyship.

Students working with the Edmonia Lewis Center have planned a series of events this week that include two discussion panels and an art show for “folks who are reflecting on the events from last year at this time,” according to Acey. In an effort to create a space to examine the experience of March 4, Acey and College junior Joelle Lingat explained the careful planning necessary.

Lingat emphasized the importance of hearing individual narratives and experiences of March 4. “We don’t want to generalize the community’s experience and make large sweeping statements on how everyone felt, but we wanted to create a venue for people who had feelings and wanted to share their experience,” Lingat said.

In addition to commemorating student and faculty reflections on Day of Solidarity, events also focused on racial, religious and sexual identities on campus. College seniors Sarah Cheshire and Cuyler Otsuka and College sophomore Lillian White organized a project called The Oberlin History Lessons, an initiative designed to memorialize the range of voices and experiences through photographs, writing and art.

Presented just before Natasha Trethewey’s convocation, Cheshire explained that the project was inspired by Trethewey’s poem “History Lesson.”

“I had the idea for the Oberlin History Lessons project this fall while taking Lynn Powell’s Teaching Imaginative Writing class,” said Cheshire. “One of my lesson plans had students write poems based on Trethewey’s poem “History Lesson.” I had them reposition themselves inside of a photo or memory that represented “home” to them, then had them think about the larger contexts informing this moment.”

The lesson plan was so well received by her students that Cheshire was inspired to bring the project to the campus at large. Cheshire, Osuka and White asked students and faculty to craft their own “history lessons” and reflect on memories using Trethewey’s poem as a model.

“The range of voices is incredible: Some are angry, some are soft, some are humorous, some are heartbreaking,” said Cheshire. “Some are two sentences long, others are five pages long. I see the display as a whole as a kind of map, demonstrating the uniqueness of the histories that each of us carry into this space, while identifying each history as distinct, yet rooted and relational.”

College sophomore Sophie Weinstein, a member of J Street U, facilitated a panel on Wednesday afternoon titled, ‘Navigating Jewish Identity at Oberlin,’ which explored anti-Semitism, the role of Judaism in student life and Zionism.

“The goal of the panel was to explore how five different students have navigated and are navigating their Jewish identity here at Oberlin,” Weinstein said. “The panel itself was thrown together somewhat quickly and was not meant to be representative of every Jewish experience here at Oberlin but was just about the panelists representing themselves.”

College sophomore and member of J Street U Yonah London expressed that although the panel was a commendable effort to unite the campus’ Jewish community, he didn’t think it fairly represented Jewish students at Oberlin.

“I’m really glad that the Jewish community decided to commemorate last spring and address this topic, but I think that the chosen panelists did not represent the full spectrum of Jewish identities on this campus,” said London. “I don’t think that should be a hindrance to further dialogue. I hope that students will be able to bring together their conceptions of religiosity, culture and politics that come with a Jewish identity and that we continue to learn together.”

In the last year, students and faculty have assembled working groups to address issues of transparency, accessibility and institutional oppression on campus.

“There [were] working groups and they had very specific goals and we’ve been working on them and achieved many, and the ones we haven’t achieved are longer-term, such as the faculty issues,” said Krislov.

Conservatory senior Michelle Ellison served as the point person for the Conservatory’s working groups last semester and has served as the Residential Assistant in Afrikan Heritage House since fall 2012. Ellison expressed that while there has not been a significant shift in campus culture since last spring, the efforts of the working groups have not been futile.

“It’s been really hard; I know as young students we get riled up when violence occurs, it’s a very young thing. But [since March 4] I have been called upon to be on task forces by Dean Estes, and the administration has reached out and responded more than I ever could have imagined in terms of seeing how students feel when it is time to fill a new position in the College or Conservatory, and reaching out to ensure we see diversity in the candidates we are seeing for these positions.”

Ellison emphasized the importance in recognizing that, “this is not a black and white thing.” She said it is critical to remember every identity affected which include “Jewish students, students on the LGBTQIA spectrum and many other people were affected and need to be commemorated.”

Eli Diop, College senior and former student senator has worked closely with the Training and Documentation Working Group, a committee formed to educate new professors and incoming students on identity, privilege and allyship. Although Diop admits to persistent cultural tension, she does not feel that her efforts have been fruitless.

“Something really tangible [that happened is] the Social Justice Institute now happens for professors, as well; the debut of that was in January,” said Diop. “Instead of it happening only for freshmen, it is [also] open for all students. I specifically remembering listing that in the list of demands, it teaches or socializes you into ideas of social justice, it just reminds us of how to be cognizant of other identities, and how we interact with other people.”

Similar to Ellison and Diop, College sophomore Dyaami D’Orazio is involved in a working group for the Athletics Department. “The [working groups] were started by people who went abroad or graduated,” said D’Orazio. “I found out one of the male athletes was in charge of the working athletics group, and the other two people who had been in charge before sort of let it go, we thought someone who was more involved in the community should [be the point person], so halfway through my season I started.”

According to D’Orazio, the department is working to adequately incorporate trans* persons into the College’s athletics. But like many others, D’Orazio affirms that there is still more to be done.

“I’m so happy we went to trans* allyship training workshops. Anti-racist workshops in athletics would be a great next step, as well as more conversation between teams about issues of masculinity, classism and sexism.”

Dean of Students Eric Estes also expressed that faculty and the administration have worked to address issues of diversity among faculty and curriculums as well as form working groups to increase institutional accessibility for marginalized students.

“Although my title has shifted from director of MRC and I have a different working relationship with students, I work hard to be present in communities like the MRC and be aware of student experiences,” said Estes. “But I don’t think [the community] as a whole has yet established the long-term goals regarding allyship and privilege at Oberlin; however, since Day of Solidarity last spring, the administration, faculty and students have collaborated to begin addressing these issues, which I think [has] been useful for many.”

Despite efforts to organize the week’s commemoration events and the past year’s arrangement of working groups that address issues of marginalization and privilege, many agree that these conversations are far more complex. According to Lingat, the benefits of discussion panels and workshops are limited.

“Most people may know what privilege is, but they have no idea how it functions in the everyday life, and that’s almost as dangerous as not knowing about privilege at all,” Lingat said. “People have this idea that they’re the perfect ally when in reality, being an ally is not a static identity, it’s a kinetic relationship you have with your community. Being a good ally is not being a stranger to these communities of marginalized students and attending even the unsexy event.”

Like Krislov and Estes, Acey remains unsure of both the effects of the past year’s endeavors and the long term objectives of addressing campus-wide oppression.

“It’s hard to speak to the efficacy of what we’re doing because it’s hard to identify the goals that we’re trying to reach,” said Acey. “Some people’s goal is to get rid of the surface level racism. I’m sure some people feel content because nothing as serious as someone dressed up in KKK regalia has happened in the last year. But my goal is to make people realize that racism is institutional and that certain opinions are backed institutionally.”