Clarifying What We Mean by “Community” at Oberlin

Machmud Makhmudov, Student Senator and Contributing Writer

Of the few moments that I can recall from freshman orientation, I still distinctly remember my first time sitting in North Quad. It was the type of warm, end-of-summer night that lasts forever while making no promises of any more to come. I sat in the middle of the grassy field with the rest of the newest residents of Barrows Hall, exchanging smiles and laughs with people that I looked forward to sharing memories with over the next four years.

Between stories and introductions, I remember looking around the group and thinking, “This is why I came to Oberlin.” Never before had I thought that a group of people with such divergent backgrounds could come together and work in unison for common goals. Coming in with an established interest in politics, I was extremely proud to see Oberlin’s legacy of social progressivism affirmed through the ideals and actions of my peers.

As a second-year student, the events that the Oberlin community now colloquially refers to as the March 4 bias incidents have largely dominated my experiences with race relations on campus. Prior to the events, I had always identified as a person of color but never truly understood what that meant to other people.

Having been born in Uzbekistan and raised in Stone Mountain, GA, I’m certainly not blind to the stinging pain that racial prejudice can bring. Even at Oberlin, I know the distinct feeling of walking into a room of 30 people and still feeling completely alone.

However, I also acknowledge the tremendous privilege that I possess to be accepted within the white community as well, particularly as a varsity athlete. I’ve never felt comfortable claiming a position within what has been presented as a

false dichotomy of being part of the white or people of color communities. Doing so would have felt like a betrayal to the very real friendships that I have on both sides. How can one choose?

Oberlin must decide how it will answer this dilemma, one that many other people besides myself face. No amount of rhetorical flourish will absolve us of the frustrating, emotionally draining and hard work that comes along with deconstructing racism.

Structural oppression is real, and hundreds of years of inequality have socialized many of us to accept a world that in many

ways remains overtly unjust. But I hope that we can remember that Oberlin’s ultimate goal should be to act as a united campus, one where the racial differences that we share do not divide us, but rather, tie us together as one community.

The answers to problems of race are never black and white; they’re every hue of the human experience in between. The task of staying faithful to the authenticity of both our peers and ourselves does not lend itself to helping us easily categorize one another based on assumptions. Instead, it challenges us to ask harder questions: Must we accept a false dichotomy? Is that really our campus? Is that really me?