New Proposal Requires OSCA Members to Attend Anti-Racism Meetings

Louis Krauss

In an effort to facilitate more effective cross-community discussion, OSCA is requiring its members to attend next week’s Anti-Racism Workshops. Held on Nov. 23 and 24, the workshops will last approximately three hours and will address both the intricacies of racial insensitivity, as well as the implications of allyship. While OSCA bylaws have always allowed for this type of mandatory meeting to be proposed, this is the first case of implementation.

OSCA President Katherine Pardue said that this was partly in response to last year’s racial hate incident and that she thought that OSCA could be more open and helpful to students who have been offended by past insensitivity.

“There was a call to action last spring, and up until then OSCA had been doing a lot of talk about how inclusive the organization was. It became clear that that was not entirely true, as members of our community spoke up about ways in which they did not feel OSCA was not always accessible to POCs and low-income folk in particular, including myself,” said Pardue in an email to the Review.

“As a woman of color facilitating discussions about these trainings in Harkness last spring I was met with the alarming reality that many people did not know how to check their privilege, call-in others for saying harmful things, or navigate these discussions in a successful way.”

According to Pardue, one of the reasons that these workshops are required solely for OSCA, rather than the entire of the student body, is that the co-ops have the power to implement their decisions sooner.

“I hold OSCA to a different standard than I do Oberlin College, and felt that after the March 4th events I had not been doing all that I could to ensure the safety and accessibility of our spaces. OSCA has the ability to decide on things faster, and implement them sooner than the College can. All of our decisions are made via the collective power of our membership, whether that is through the Board of Directors who directly represent the members or within individual co-ops,” said Pardue.

Like OSCA, Student Senate members have also decided to hold these types of discussions. This decision was made on Oct. 7, when a proposal detailing the need for such a series of workshops was drafted by leading members of the association. Pardue said she believes that, although a single workshop won’t make the campus dramatically more accepting, it will have some effect.

“The purpose of these workshops would not be to make everyone think the same way or force anyone to conform to a certain way of being ‘politically correct’ but rather to establish a minimum expectation of critical thought by OSCA members in relation to privilege and accessibility,” she said.

Although such a blanket initiative may prove to safeguard against insensitivity, some students have said that they view the proposal as an outlet for the heads of OSCA to alleviate their “white guilt.” College sophomore and former Harkness resident Bill Derrah said that most co-ops’ overall lack of diversity is what led to this decision.

“During my time in OSCA, people complained [about] how racially homogenous it was — [those people] being white people. So I think it’s kind of flamboyant and self-inflating to have race meetings when it didn’t seem to be an issue,” Derrah said.

He went on to say that, because there isn’t much diversity in co-ops, workshops like these don’t often make their projected impact. Derrah said that this lack of diversity might have led OSCA members to believe that they have to make up for racial insensitivity more than other Oberlin students.

“This sounds like something OSCA is upset with itself over, and this is like penance, or the flagellant whipping himself saying ‘No, we’re not exclusive, see? We worry about racism too,’” Derrah said.

Some students have also noted that three hours on a weekend is too long of a time commitment for all of the members of OSCA. According to Derrah, some OSCA members have called them “useless.” Others are upset that missing the workshop would result in a missed job.
However, while there might not be an influx of racial diversity in the co-op community, some members believe that other forms of diversity are more widely respected. OSCA Education Coordinator Chandler Atkinson said that her veganism and allergies are always respected, and that members of the co-op should be just as supportive to people of different ethnicities.

“I am vegan and severly allergic to peanuts, a diet that many people would think of as “extremely hard to accommodate,” yet I am served two meals a day every day in my co-op and have never had an allergic reaction in my five semesters in Harkness. So I think that OSCA should do everything it can to let all of its members experience the same level of safety and acceptance as I do,” Atkinson said in an email to the Review.

She also said that, although the meetings are required, there will be more workshops to accommodate the members who won’t be able to attend.

“There were a couple members early on that were worried about the time commitment, but we worked out ways for people who cannot make the trainings to be trained at different times. The trainings are mandatory and members that do not attend one receive a missed-job, but as long as they contact the education coordinators or the accessibility coordinators they will not receive the missed job,” Atkinson said.

The College is currently on the fence about requiring the entire student body to attend these tutorials, as such a demand would necessitate a College-wide bylaw. The workshops will be held by several North American Students of Cooperation heads — Director of Membership and Communications Farheen Hakeem, People of Color Caucus Chair Layla Oghabian and Vice President Vivian Onuoha.