oberlin alumni magazine  

Town/Gown Observations

Not entirely sure what to expect, I returned to Oberlin in November for an alumni librarians' conference. It was my first time back since graduating in 1975. As I walked around campus, read posters at Wilder, and dropped in at Tank, I felt generally relieved. By and large, Oberlin seemed not to have changed too much. There is still a focus on matters intellectual and artistic, and seemingly a strong interest in various social justice issues. There are, however, far too many cars! So much for environmental awareness.

Also, two specific situations darkened the overall brightness of my impressions. As briefly noted in the Winter '99 issue, the Co-op Bookstore suddenly closed. This had taken place just a few days before my visit, and it was still common to see students approach the door, read the notice, and walk away frowning. The local yellow pages list two small specialty bookstores. Surely, in a college town that now supports a significant number of thriving cafés and crowded restaurants, a few more bookstores could exist?

As well, a more serious and unpleasant incident took place in November. A student in her dorm room was injured in a stabbing. This occurred despite around-the-clock locked residences. A local male had been taken in for this crime between members of predictable and opposing race, gender, and socio-economic class; I imagine the decades-old tension between "townies" and Oberlin students was not decreased.

So all is not well. During my years at Oberlin, I volunteered at a Headstart program and had a part-time job, and had student friends who tutored at a local school. I hope these types of initiatives are still being taken by today's students. Those busy, hip, not inexpensive cafés I saw seemed extremely empty of locals. Our Oberlin ideals don't mean much if we, the privileged, don't act on them. Start when you're a student, and make it part of your life.

Nancy K. Brown '75
Montreal, Quebec

A Teacher's Influence

Andrew Bongiorno epitomized the richness of the Oberlin learning experience. In my senior year he was my literature teacher. My first essay was returned with a poor grade and a request to come to his office. With some hesitation I went to see him. He looked at me and asked how I could have become a senior at Oberlin and be so deficient in my writing ability. He offered to work with me. I accepted the offer. As noted by David Young in his Memorial Minute, relative to Bongiorno's editorial acumen, "...his formidable training and his command of the classical tradition made him not only a stimulating teacher and colleague, but a sought-after reader of manuscripts, one who could be counted on, when he had time to go over a book or an article in draft (and I should add, a student's essay) for one of his many friends and associates, to detect inconsistencies, illogicalities, and solecisms, not to mention just plain fuzzy writing, all pointed out with a gentle firmness that was bracing and unforgettable to experience."

As I look back over 40 years it was an unforgettable experience. It is because of stimulating teacher-scholars like Andrew Bongiorno that Oberlin remains one of this nation's leading institutions of higher learning. It is because of Andrew Bongiorno and others like him who had a profound influence on my education, that I continue to support Oberlin.

J. Ivan Legg '60
Provost, University of Memphis


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