Emeritus Professor William P. Norris, 1943–2014

Bill Norris, emeritus professor of Sociology and founding chair of the Comparative American Studies department, passed away this Saturday at a retirement community in Cleveland. Prior to beginning his 26-year tenure at Oberlin, Norris served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, researching the survival strategies of people living in favelas and working as a community organizer. While at Oberlin, Norris conducted research on poverty in Lorain County and on the experiences of LGBTQ faculty and students in higher education. Norris also led the way for progressive institutional reforms that help define Oberlin today, including the addition of a clause about sexuality in the College’s affirmative action policy, the institution of domestic partnership benefits for College employees and the creation of a tenured position in Sexuality Studies. Norris was instrumental in the expansion of the Multicultural Resource Center to include LGBTQ issues and received the MRC’s first “living legacy” award in 2010. In The Source, Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature Tim Scholl said of Norris, “His activism was quiet and sustained, led by the heart but governed by the head. … I won’t forget a question Bill once asked when I moved to a neighborhood populated with 30-something [auto] workers, most of whom had never met a gay person before and had certainly never had an opportunity to discuss the subject openly. I had plenty of stories of nights in garages drinking beer around half-dismantled cars, but Bill once asked how my activism was coming along. Activism? I thought we were just having fun. But I began to understand the potential Bill saw in even these seemingly casual exchanges. For Bill, activism began with educating and continued through a sustained process of listening and involvement.” Oberlin faculty and staff joined family and friends at yesterday’s burial service, held in the Wade Chapel in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery. Pro- fessor Norris is survived by his part- ner of 30 years, Clayton Koppes, his daughter, Faryl Janis, her husband, Greg Doughty, his grandchildren Grif- fin and Charlotte Doughty and sis- ters Melissa Filley and Alison Wilson.