Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, the Board of Trustees and the Oberlin administration have been put under a lot of pressure by students during the past several weeks, from the “Hands Up, Walk Out” call for action to the protest at the Board of Trustees function on Dec. 4. Their response came in the form of an “Open Letter to the Student Community” emailed to students on Thursday night.
Since this was the only real acknowledgement of student activists’ call for change since President Krislov’s Dec. 3 article in the Source, “Confronting Difficult Issues Through Education,” I was hopeful about what the email would entail, especially since I had been pretty disappointed with the article. For the most part, the Dec. 3 article was simply a reaffirmation of Oberlin’s diversity mantra and the value of conversations about race and class disparities in society, with the announcement of working groups with “significant student representation” led by Tita Reed, assistant for community and government relations, and Visiting Associate Professor Charles Peterson, faculty-in-residence of Afrikan Heritage House.
The email elaborated upon plans for working groups and committees, announcing plans for a campus climate team led by Meredith Raimondo, the special assistant to the president for equity, diversity and inclusion, and that Krislov, along with Dean of Students Eric Estes, would meet with small groups of students. It neglected to mention how — or when, given the imminence of reading period — these students would be selected to participate.
While I appreciate that Krislov is open to hearing students’ opinions, he failed to mention perhaps the most vocal and promoted opinion on this campus: support for College junior Kiki Acey’s petition. The petition, now boasting over 1,200 signatures, calls for suspension of the usual grading scale for this semester, making the lowest grade a student could receive a C. Yet Krislov breezed over this issue. “Our academic deans have communicated with our faculty regarding end-of-the-semester stresses and the needs of our students during this period,” the email read. That would probably be relevant information to share in detail.
While I want to be hopeful and optimistic about these working groups and teams that President Krislov is intending to form, I have to agree with College junior Sophie Umazi Mvurya’s response to Krislov’s first article. “We are not here just to discuss and have working groups,” she wrote in a comment on the Source article. “For how long have we discussed and had working groups on how to change a system that is unfriendly to people who do not fit into a certain ‘American-friendly’ category? If discussing and debating worked, we would not be in this situation right now.”
President Krislov’s response was better than nothing, but I would like to see more transparency from the Office of the President and the rest of the administration: transparency in everything from more student diversity data — especially on prospective student recruitment — to academic decisions involving finals, emergency incompletes and grading accommodations for students of color.
President Krislov and administrators: You don’t need to hold discussions. Students of color on our campus have explained what they need and why they need it. I hope you listen to them.