Open Letter from Oberlin’s Equity and Diversity Committee

Dear members of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee,

As members of the Oberlin College General Faculty Committee on Equity and Diversity, we are writing to urge you to consider the fundamental place of diversity (including, but not limited to, differences of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability and religion/spirituality) in Oberlin’s continuing mission as an elite liberal arts college and conservatory.

We ask you as a committee to place a high priority on the creation of a diverse learning environment in the current Strategic Planning process, with particular emphasis on the following:

–Increased racial and ethnic diversity of faculty and staff, reflected by specific hiring recommendations

–Increased socioeconomic, racial and ethnic diversity within the student body

–Increased global diversity within the student body

Ideally, the Strategic Planning process would also produce as a critical output a definition of “diversity” as it relates to future College policy and processes and a statement on the value of this type of diversity that can be embraced by the College community.

As you are well aware, Oberlin points with great pride to its 19th-century activism around both racial equality and the coeducation of women and men. The College’s special relationship to the education and training of African-Americans has distinguished it in the 20th and 21st centuries as well, as have its broader commitments to diversity and inclusion (the 2005 Strategic Plan, for instance, states in its first paragraph that “Oberlin’s excellence encompasses the highest standards for liberal and musical education and diversity, inclusiveness, and social engagement”).

Despite its well-justified pride in past accomplishments, however, Oberlin College’s current commitment to diversity has fallen short of its peer institutions in established diversity benchmarks, such as faculty and staff hiring and enrollment of domestic students of color. Presently, for example, 15 percent of Oberlin’s tenured and tenure-track college faculty are faculty of color, ranking Oberlin well behind many of its peer institutions, including Carleton, Vassar, Haverford, Grinnell and Kenyon Colleges. Funds are also limited at the College and Conservatory for recruiting diverse faculty members through target of opportunity hiring and outreach.

In addition to improving Oberlin’s faculty, staff and student diversity to reflect emerging national demographics, creating a dynamic learning environment at Oberlin also requires rich and diverse curricular offerings and support for programs where students are introduced to new intellectual fields and modes of inquiry by faculty and staff committed to serving a diverse student body. Diversity is vital to the overall quality of education and has led to demonstrably improved outcomes in learning in categories like academic skills, intellectual engagement and motivation and active (i.e., more complex, analytical and social-historical) forms of thinking.

A robust commitment to diversity also calls for greater interactional diversity — that is, the creation and maintenance of formal and informal spaces where students have the opportunity to talk with, work with, learn from and teach those who are different from themselves. One of the fundamental goals of a liberal arts education is to send students into the world beyond Oberlin with a deeper understanding of, respect for and empathy toward those who view and experience the world in different ways.

That goal is, however, frankly unattainable without a rigorous and lasting commitment to diversity at all levels of the institution. Alongside fostering interactional diversity in classroom and co-curricular settings, Oberlin’s efforts at equity and inclusion must also include the wider communities of the city of Oberlin, Lorain County and broader northeast Ohio and could spark innovative programs in job training, student internships and entrepreneurial enterprises.

As a General Faculty committee with strong staff and student representation, we look forward to participating in the strategic planning process. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Steering Committee and individual work groups and discuss further the future of diversity at Oberlin College and Conservatory.

–Oberlin College General Faculty Committee on Equity and Diversity

Monique Burgdorf, Office of the Dean of Students
Nicholas Canavan, Student Representative
Chris Jenkins, Assistant Dean, Conservatory
David Kamitsuka, Associate Professor of Religion
A.G. Miller, Associate Professor of Religion
Pablo Mitchell, Professor of History and Comparative American Studies
Darko Opoku, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Meredith Raimondo, Associate Professor of Comparative American Studies
Clovis White, Associate Professor of Sociology
Webb Wiggins, Associate Professor of Harpsichord
Alison Williams, Associate Dean for Academic Diversity, Director, Multicultural Resource Center
Matthew Wright, Associate Professor of Theater

Cosigned by the following members of the Oberlin College and Conservatory faculty and staff:

Kathleen Abromeit, Conservatory Library
Nacho Alarcon, Residential Education
Anna Baeth, Athletics
Rick Baldoz, Associate Professor of Sociology
Jane Boomer, Office of Disability Services
Tania Boster, Bonner Center for Service & Learning
David Bowlin, Associate Professor of Violin
Marsha Bragg, Center for Information Technology
Anna Brandt, Student Academic Services
Betsy L. Bruce, Recreation and Club Sports
Elizabeth Clerkin, Registrar
Veronica Colegrove, Oberlin Shansi
John Congdon, Office of Development
Jan Cooper, Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Composition and English
Debra El-Amin, Counseling Center
Jonathon Field, Director of Oberlin Opera Theater
Janet Fiskio, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Comparative American Studies
Jennifer Fraser, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology
John Harshbarger, Student Health Services and Counseling Center
Aaron Helgeson, Visiting Assistant Professor of Composition
Anna Hoffmann, Conservatory Library
James Howsmon, Professor of Instrumental Accompanying
Dana Jessen, Conservatory Director of Professional Development
Gillian Johns, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies
Shozo Kawaguchi, Dean of Students Office
Melinda Keller, Physics and Astronomy Department
Clayton Koppes, Professor of History
Wendy Kozol, Professor of Comparative American Studies
Carol Lasser, Professor of History
Shelley Lee, Associate Professor of History and Comparative American Studies
Sean Lehlbach, Student Union
Joseph Lubben, Associate Professor of Music Theory
Marilyn McDonald, Professor of Violin and Baroque Violin
Jan Miyake, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Associate Professor of Music Theory  
Kathryn Montoya, Assistant Professor of Recorder and Baroque Oboe
Isabella Moreno, Office of Disability Services
Anuradha Needham, Professor of English
Awura Ferguson Osei, Human Resources
Andrew Pau, Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Tony Richardson, Admissions
Alison S. Ricker, Science Center Library
Joseph Romano, Department of Art
Renee Romano, Professor of History, Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies
Forrest Rose, Biology Department
Amy Salim, Office of the Dean of Students
Anne Cuyler Salsich, College Archives
Leonard Smith, Professor of History
Harrod Suarez, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative American Studies
Barbara Thomas, Counseling Center
Marcelo Vinces, Center for Learning, Education and Research in the Sciences
Steven Wojtal, Office of the Dean of the College and Professor of Geology
Sandra Zagarell, Professor of English
DJ Zissen, Residential Education