“We will not be silenced,” say black student leaders in a list of 50 demands that has landed on the desks of Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov and trustees.
The campus black student union, named “Abusua,” the Ghanian word for “clan,” turned in the 14-page document last week, accompanied by a roll of student signatures.
Abusua is seeking sweeping changes for all students of color. Its manifesto called Oberlin College “an unethical institution.”
“In the late 1830s, this school claimed a legacy of supporting its black students,” the document stated. “However, that legacy has amounted to nothing more than a public relations campaign initiated to benefit the image of the institution and not the Africana people it was set out for.”
Abusua’s six main goals include:
• A four percent annual increase in enrollment of students of color from each of the Americas, the Caribbean, and continent of Africa from 2016 to 2022.
• An increase in black administrators and faculty members across departments and governing bodies.
• The divestment from all prisons and Israel.
• Exclusive safe spaces for black students with designated rooms at Wilder Hall, the Science Center, and Mudd Library.
• Elimination of “institutional complacency” that allows violence against black students.
• The “eradication of hegemony” in curriculum.
Oberlin College director of media relations Scott Wargo said administrators need time to evaluate the document before issuing a response.
“The college is 18 months into a strategic planning process and it has been clear from the start that inclusion and diversity will be a primary focus,” he said. “However, the strategic planning process won’t be complete until March.”
The student union document says its demands have been raised before and were ignored.
“This was never acceptable and will not longer be tolerated,” it said. “As you will see, these are not polite requests but concrete and unmalleable demands. Failure to meet them will result in a full and forceful response from the community you fail to support.”
Among the other demands are:
• Renaming of four academic buildings to honor Wendell Logan, who created the jazz department; Avery Brooks, a world renowned actor best known for portraying Capt. Benjamin Sisko on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”; professor Yakubu Saaka and professor emeritus Booker Peek; and sculptor Edmonia Lewis, “as an acknowledgement of the debt owed to her for the violence that she experienced at this institution.”
• More transparency in the faculty recruitment process for the jazz department, and in the admissions and retention efforts of the college in general.
• A six percent annual increase in grant offers versus loan offers for black students for the next five years.
• An increase in funding for internships and career opportunities for all black students.
• An $8.20 per hour stipend for black student leaders’ continuous organizing efforts.
• The firing and promotion of certain professors and staff.
• That black prospective students be interviewed by admissions officers trained in race consciousness practices.
• Free housing for black international students unable to return to their home countries during post-semester breaks.
• An online database outlining deadlines, dates, and forms critical for the successful academic journey of black students.
• Financial aid workshops for black students by black financial aid officers.
• Funding for an event for black first-year students during orientation week.
• Institutional and financial support for a black bridge program between the Oberlin public school system and Oberlin College.
• A bridge program for recently released prisoners of the Grafton Correctional Institution to enroll at Oberlin College.
• An “Intro to the Black Experience” course for all students as a graduation requirement.
• Elimination of graduation requirements for Western and classical-centered courses; or required equivalent courses in African Diaspora.
• Creation of a department focusing on languages of Africana peoples, including Kiswahili, Yoruba, Menda, Xhosa, Creole, Black English, Jamaican Patois, and more.
• Health care and insurance through the college as benefits for all employees.
• A meal every work shift for workers at college dining hall services.
• Rehiring of community members terminated from jobs at the Oberlin Inn before its renovation.
• Discontinuation of the “no trespass list,” which Abusua says disproportionately targets black people.
• A free busing system for Oberlin public school students, paid for by the college.
• A program allowing community members to take one free course per semester at the college.
• Establishment of a payment in lieu of taxes program by the college, to be approved by the city.
“These are demands and not suggestions,” the Abusua document states. “If these demands are not taken seriously, immediate action from the Africana community will follow.”
According to the college’s website, it has roughly 2,900 students. Among them, 20 percent are students of color.
“Oberlin College and Conservatory uses the limited number of black and brown students to color in its brochures but then erases us from student life on this campus,” the document states. “You profit off of our accomplishments and invisible labor, yet you expect us to produce personal solutions to institutional incompetencies.”
The group stated its members will not attend any more forums, teach-ins, working groups, or committees until its demands are met.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.