Complaints put forward by the black student union at Oberlin College deserve to be heard, says president Marvin Krislov, though he finds some of the group’s demands “deeply troubling.”
Krislov, who has led the college since 2007, issued a formal response last Wednesday to Abusua, the student-led group that in December delivered up a 14-page list containing 50 demands for sweeping changes.
Abusua’s main goals included a four-percent annual increase in enrollment of students of color through 2022, increase in black administrators and faculty members, divestment from all prisons and Israel, safe spaces for black students, elimination of “institutional complacency” that allows violence against black students, and the “eradication of hegemony” in curriculum.
“These are demands and not suggestions,” the Abusua document states.”Failure to meet them will result in a full and forceful response from the community you fail to support.”
In Krislov’s reply, published on the Oberlin College website, he admitted “we are not where we want to be” and asked students to help foster change.
“Before winter break, my office received a document written by students containing 14 pages of demands for institutional action. This document was addressed to me, Oberlin’s trustees, and our senior leadership. It was written against a backdrop of events at colleges and universities across the country, including Oberlin, that prompted passionate discussions and demonstrations related to structural and systemic racism in American higher education.
“I hear the frustration and the desire for change at Oberlin contained in the document which echoes national themes and concerns about racism and justice. Oberlin College and Conservatory are deeply committed to addressing these concerns, and to ensuring an inclusive and equitable educational experience for our students.
“We have already taken important steps on many fronts. But we are not where we want to be. So we must commit ourselves to deep study of how systemic barriers persist at Oberlin despite all the substantial efforts being made by our faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, parents, and fellow citizens of our town, and to act based on what we learn. I invite everyone to join us in this work.
“Some of the challenges outlined in the document resonate with me and many members of our community, including our trustees. However, some of the solutions it proposes are deeply troubling. I will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement. Many of its demands contravene principles of shared governance. And it contains personal attacks on a number of faculty and staff members who are dedicated and valued members of this community.
“Our calling as an institution and as a community is to advance Oberlin’s academic mission. That mission is to provide our students with a broad-based, in-depth education which prepares them to flourish in their chosen fields of endeavor, to be engaged citizens, and to meet the challenges of living in our increasingly diverse, complex, and interconnected world.
“Our outstanding faculty and staff provide an education second to none. Their teaching, scholarship, research, musicianship, artistry, advising, and mentoring benefit our students during their undergraduate careers and throughout their lives.
“Racism and all forms of injustice hinder us from achieving our mission and must be challenged by the College wherever they undermine our goals for academic, artistic and musical excellence. Many of Oberlin’s faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni, parents, and other stakeholders are already engaged in many efforts to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.
“Achieving these goals will only be possible if we can marshal our community’s intellectual, teaching, and creative skills to tackle the difficult challenges we face on our campus and in our nation. Throughout its history, Oberlin has evolved and grown stronger through a consensus-driven process that includes dialogue in which dissenting voices are heard. That process is central to our educational mission.
“We will continue to encourage collaboration and frank conversation. We welcome the challenging, difficult, and ultimately transformative work to achieve academic, artistic, and musical excellence. I will continue to communicate with our community about opportunities to participate in these efforts. I look forward to the work and to making progress together.”