Krislov’s Response to ABUSUA Demands Weak

Taylor Slay, Contributing Writer

In early 2016, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov decided to respond to a list of demands from ABUSUA, Oberlin’s Black student union, not with action but with words. His Jan. 20 email and From the President’s Desk column both have the same content, which was presented with the inapt title: “Response to Student Demands.”

I initially interpreted this title as attributed to student demands in general, but Krislov’s opening description of the “14 pages of demands for institutional action” hints at the particular demands he is talking about. Given that these are not the first demands presented to Oberlin College and Conservatory since Krislov has been president, let alone the first in the school’s history, it is an interesting omission of specificity that leads us to assume that this particular document presented by ABUSUA and the Africana community is to be made into an example.

Krislov writes that the document “was written against a backdrop of events,” a lackluster depiction of the pertinent issues and realities found at the forefront of the minds of students, alumni, faculty, staff and Oberlin community members who are conscious of anti-Blackness in our everyday lives. We are not divorced from the rest of the world in the so-called “Oberlin bubble,” and we see and are affected by the police brutality and excessive force not only outside of campus but on campus as carried out by the Oberlin Police Department and Safety and Security — currently lacking a code of conduct — on students and town residents alike. We deal with indiscretions made by our professors, some of whom think it’s humorous to call their students “slaves” or dismiss their students asking for help or reconsideration on the premise of “there’s nothing I can do” or “we’ve always done it this way.” These are examples of my personal experiences and shared experiences with other Black students on this campus.

The statement Krislov makes about the supposed context of the document is followed by an attempt to condescend; he refers to the necessary and longstanding discussion of systemic racism and injustices frequently held by rightfully concerned community members, faculty, Oberlin citizens, staff and students as “passionate” and “prompted” by the so-called “recent events.” Marvin Krislov referred to the racism and violence plaguing our society the same way only a few semesters ago in his last inadequate address to the dissenting community. Remember, this is not our first time as students, as an Oberlin community, that we are bringing collaborative concerns to Krislov’s administration and getting no love back.

Then, on behalf of the institution, Krislov makes claims to be “deeply committed to addressing these concerns.” If that were the apparent or real case for Oberlin’s constituents, then why does Krislov’s rhetoric suggest that there is indeed tension at work? Anyone with reading glasses and a pulse can see that Krislov’s use of “frustration” and “desire for change” complicate that “deep commitment.”

Next, he states, “We have already taken important steps on many fronts,” but does not go on to inform us of these attempts, nor does he disclose who makes up the “we” involved in these efforts. He simply says “but we are not where we want to be,” as though the people who compiled and signed the list of demands should be silent in waiting for a transformation rather than actively creating and enforcing the change we seek.

He says that “we commit ourselves to deep study of how systemic barriers persist at Oberlin,” but when the very “faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, parents, and fellow citizens of our town” have the audacity to slap answers across his desk to the feigned institutional ignorance, he disrespects us with this. He says that “some of the challenges outlined in the document resonate with [him],” but what does that say about the merit he gives to the challenges that he cannot resonate with?

Krislov shares that the nonnegotiable solutions are so “deeply troubling” to him to the point that he “will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement.” This is a list of demands that we, as members of the Black Oberlin community, have collaborated on, and we definitely view this as not only a direct response, but as a decidedly uncooperative one. In the past, there have been numerous attempts to collaborate with Krislov’s administration, but there was often a sentiment of second-class consideration toward our grievances and solutions. Even then, the terms upon which we were allowed to approach these opportunities for change were set by the comfortability of the administration. Understand, this document inclusively reflects the challenges and solutions from many communal and individual realities, representative of a great stretch of Oberlin’s existence as a town, as an institution and as a place of liberal arts and musical education.

He suggests that the demands “contravene principles of shared governance,” but in what ways is the current method of governance held responsible for being reflective and protective of the “dissenting” Africana community now? Even in addressing this letter to students, we are left to wonder how he interpreted the synergetic effort made across all levels of the Africana community as it exists in relation to Oberlin.

The reports referred to by Marvin Krislov as “personal attacks” on faculty and staff that are “dedicated and valued members of the community” should not be dismissed as such because that would be gross neglect of the community members who are bringing these indiscretions to your attention. We take that personally. Jerry Sandusky was an asset to the corporate Pennsylvania State University too, at some point. But when do the consumers, the students who pay to receive quality education, get to voice complaints about their customer service experiences with faculty, staff and administration and be heard? And is it already too late for some of us? President Krislov claims that the mission of the Oberlin community is to provide students with the preparation we need to “flourish in [our] chosen fields of endeavor, to be engaged citizens,” but is he committed to preparing students for those fields that analyze, deconstruct and re-envision the very institution of which he is a figurehead? What about providing faculty to guide us and supplying staff to aid us along the way? Will he have a hand in fostering student engagement among those who seek to reorder the world in which he prospers?


He mentions that Oberlin has evolved “through a consensus-driven process that includes dialogue in which dissenting voices are heard,” which he then says is “central to our educational mission,” but he has already stated that he will not respond directly to this particular document of dissent. Which one is it, Krislov? Where is the consensus in participating in private meetings with token students while the rest of the community, trying to achieve safety and survival alongside our “academic, artistic, and musical excellence,” is left out of the conversation without a seat at the table?

Marvin Krislov ends with “I look forward to the work and to making progress together,” and we are going to have to hold him to that. My first demand to him is a rearticulation of his flippant email response. He can do better. We deserve better.

So now that we can call bullshit, are we ready to respond to these fighting words with action?