The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary October 6, 2006

A Call for MENA Programs, other letters

To the Editors:

A mere glance at the news from the Middle East with the continued U.S military presence in Iraq, worsening international tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and the alarming deterioration in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a constant reminder to us that the US is inextricably involved in shaping the politics of the Middle East in many important ways. The current global political context makes it vital that we the students of Oberlin graduate with an informed and comprehensive understanding of the region in all its complexities.

In Nov. 2004, a small group of like-minded students of both Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern descent formed the Middle East Students Association (MESA). Since its establishment, MESA has strived to work collectively with students, faculty and the administration towards the creation of a Middle Eastern and North Africa (MENA) Studies department at Oberlin, as well as to raise cultural and political awareness about the complex histories and cultures of the Middle East/North Africa Region.

MESA’s establishment coincided with much debate on campus both among students and faculty about the possible expansion of both Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Oberlin. However, for Oberlin students interested in the serious academic study of Islam, the MENA studies or the Arabic language this year, there is embarrassingly little scope for this in the Oberlin curriculum. 

In light of the College’s budget deficit we decided in 2004 that the most feasible option was to advocate for an inter-disciplinary concentration that cross-listed existing classes offered in Oberlin’s curriculum. These classes were offered in a wide range of disciplines including religion, gender and women studies, art history, politics and the department of French and Italian. Because of the undeniable religious and political significance and widespread usage of Arabic language in the region, we also decided to work towards the creation of an Arabic language program at Oberlin. In making this choice we are well aware that although Arabic is a good starting point, it is just one of the many languages spoken in the Middle East region that includes languages with such rich and important literary and cultural traditions and as Farsi (Persian), Turkish, Kurdish and Hebrew.

Since then there have been a number of initiatives on campus both by students and staff members to take this issue forward. MESA members Ozlem Gemici and Azadeh Pourzand were elected to the Student Senate on the explicit platform to advocate student interest in seeing more MENA Studies in the Oberlin curriculum. As student senators they helped initiate a student referendum in fall 2005 that substantiated that students were overwhelmingly in favor of the establishment of an Arabic language program and more MENA studies classes at Oberlin.

In response to growing student demands for Arabic language instruction, Professor of French Ali Yedes and Oberlin student Adi Dajani (both native speakers of Arabic) jointly taught a private reading in introductory Arabic during the last academic year. The class used video conferencing in order to have joint classes with a women’s college in Saudi Arabia and an Arabic language teacher in Kuwait.

In the spring of 2005, MESA members Victoria Horrock, Adi Dajani and Rehan Jamil served on an ad-hoc committee composed of both faculty and administration and chaired by professor of religion, Ana Gade, that was given the task of evaluating the possibilities for MENA/Islamic studies at Oberlin. The committee’s immediate aims were the reinstatement of the MENA position which had been left vacant after the departure of politics professor Khalid Medani from Oberlin in spring 2005. The committee also looked into the creation of an Arabic language program and strengthening study abroad program with universities in the Middle East.

In this year alone, a number of positions that would have been vital to the establishment of viable MENA studies program at Oberlin are in serious jeopardy. At this stage it is uncertain whether Professor Medani’s position will be refilled. Professor Yasser Tabaa’s position on Islamic art and architecture has not been renewed, and professor Ana Gade, professor of religion and specialist of Islam, has announced her resignation as of December.

As Oberlin reaches an important crossroads in its future it is important for us to reevaluate our goals as an academic institution. For those of us who strongly believe that one of the most important ways to bridge the existing divide between the United States and the Muslim world is through dialogue, educational and cross-cultural exchanges, Oberlin’s current academic curriculum is indeed dismaying.

We, the members of MESA, would like to urge students, faculty and administration to renew their commitment to furthering MENA studies and the establishment of a strong language program. In doing so we would also like to recognize and appreciate President Dye’s personal interest to furthering MENA studies and cross cultural exchanges. It is our hope that MENA studies will be an important priority of any new Oberlin College president. In showing our serious and continuing commitment to furthering MENA studies at Oberlin, we need to move beyond mere words by taking concrete actions to ensure it has a secure future at Oberlin.

–Azadeh Pourzand
–Rehan Rafay Jamil
–Adi Dajani
–Ozlem Gemici
–Alia Kate

College seniors
–Victoria Horrock
–Rasha Al Sarraj

College juniors

To the Editors:

I am writing in response to the e-mail that was recently circulated to the student body in regard to the Student Senate’s deliberation over the decision to posit a bill that would ban reimbursement with SFC funds of those purchases made at Wal-Mart stores.

Yes, I agree that Wal-Mart has made some pretty questionable business decisions in the name of increasing their company’s profits, and yes, I also think their employees should be treated with a greater deal of respect and equanimity. However, Wal-Mart is a natural product of the society we live in. If it wasn’t Wal-Mart, it would be something else with its name on the 150,000 square foot discount extravaganza in your home town. By boycotting this store you are attacking the manifestation rather than the root cause of major issues surrounding the way America “does business.” Also, who are you to say that a single working mother of three should not and cannot buy discounted diapers, clothes and formula from this “disreputable source?”

I stand against your bill to prevent college reimbursement of funds spent at Wal-Mart. If you can afford to shop elsewhere, bully for you. If you are a student, like myself, who is the child of working-class parents, needs to have a campus job (three of them in my case) to have their own money, and will be 70,000 plus dollars in debt by the time you leave this institution, then go ahead and buy your granola bars, sleeping bags and tents for your Outing Club trip from Wal-Mart. Purchase the paint, clay, brushes and easels for your ExCo students there.

We are not sending a message to Wal-Mart by cutting out the paltry contribution that Oberlin dollars make to their multi-billion-dollar-a-year organization. This whole debate smacks of the Coke controversy we engaged in only a few years back. What matter did it make to Coca-Cola that the DeCafé no longer stocked their products? A drop of piss in the wind in terms of their overall profits.

If you want to change something, how about the way you shop? Why not think about what you buy and why you need/want it instead of where you buy it from? I have had enough of the unsubstantiated bleeding-heartism at this institution. Maybe you should look at your own behavior before gallivanting brashly and idealistically into the lives and decisions of others in a less fortunate position than you. We can’t all have rich daddies and mommies who will make sure that we are well stocked with frapuccinos, Evian and gasoline in our Range Rovers when we want to go to Washington to protest the war in Iraq.

In short: Dear Student Senate, Butt the hell out of my pockets.

–Elias Ameen Awad
College senior

To the Editors:

So this is what it means to be “fearless” at Oberlin, tear down posters of those with whom you disagree and while you’re at it, trash the First Amendment as well. How shameful. Given the expected “intelligence” of those admitted to Oberlin, one would presume that they know what the First Amendment is (OC Republicans Remember Sept. 11 to Mixed Response)?

Regardless of the content of the posters that were vandalized, all students’ right of free speech should be honored and respected. Such guidelines are presumably codified in the student handbook. Absent any apprehended culprit, one wonders if such a subject would have been disciplined at all?  At the very least, one might have hoped that all supporters of free speech would have denounced such actions as un-American and un-Oberlin.  Did the administration and faculty lose a teachable moment in which they might have said something appropriate? Express a little outrage? Perhaps it was due to those whose posters were destroyed, the College Republicans? Or perhaps both President Dye and the faculty have been distracted by weightier issues, issues much more important than the First Amendment?

Alas, it is not too late to do something about this.  Let’s pretend that posters of the Socialist Alliance, College Democrats, La Alianza, ______ (fill in a politically correct org. name) were destroyed by the College Republicans.  I ask the President, the Dean of Students, the President of the Faculty Senate, the President of the College Democrats to offer an apology to the College Republicans for the violation of their First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech. Let’s be “fearless.” Have all call for a day when normal classes are suspended in order to hold a discussion about the meaning of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That Oberlin would do such a thing in light of those involved would speak volumes.

Finally, I offer thanks and congratulations to the College Republicans for their efforts in providing needed insight to the Oberlin Community.  At this moment it is they and only they who can truly say they are “fearless.”

–David G. Arredondo
Lorain, Ohio

To the Editors:

We at the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People are disturbed about some things that we have seen on campus and would like to publicly respond. We are a collectively run office of the college doing the work of transforming existing systems of oppression, and strive to be a part of struggles for social justice worldwide. We have observed some recent incidents that we view not just as separate instances, but as an emerging pattern around campus that we identify backlash. One of our guiding principles is that we are anti-backlash. We define backlash as “when people of a dominant/privileged social group believe that they are experiencing oppression, when in fact they are being challenged to relinquish their privilege.”

Here are some of the incidents that concern us: We have recently overheard conversations of students suggesting that safe spaces such as Third World Co-op, Third World House, African Heritage House and many other spaces on campus should not exist because they are “discriminatory against white students.” We think that this comment does not take into account the imbalance of power and privilege between white students and students of color at Oberlin.

We were also distressed by the way that the OC Republicans decided to commemorate Sept. 11. The posters relied on brutal imagery of white journalists as victims of Arab and Muslim people that elides the reality of the US’ extreme use of military force in the Middle East and the perpetuation of global white supremacy.

In addition to this being a form of backlash, we also identify this as a form of glorifying imperialism under the guise of “self-defense,” with the OC Republicans’ equation of acts resisting US and Israeli occupation of Arab regions with the murder of 6 million Jews through the usage of the language “never forget,” which has typically been associated with the Holocaust. This form of backlash also ignores the US’ complicit role in acts of genocide in Iraq and other regions throughout the world — the reported minimum of Iraqi deaths is estimated at 43,546 since the US occupied Iraqi lands. 

Another issue that we find particularly upsetting has been the conflation of issues of homeland security with immigrant rights, exemplified by Jonathan Bruno’s piece in the Review. This ignores the role of the US’ imperialist military and economic interests, the globalized world under American capitalism, specifically in Latin America, the Caribbean and South East Asia. We also think it is important to point out that the slogan, “No human being is illegal,” is not about anything other than dignity and the rights of workers all over the world to remedy the economic disenfranchisement they’ve suffered at the hands of the United States.

We find this to be a prime example of those with American citizenship status enforcing systems of xenophobia, classism and racism, under the guise of “protecting themselves.” 

In light of the recent retirement of Nancy Dye, the resignation of Dean Hirsch and the implementation of the Strategic Plan in such a way that will likely ensure a wealthier, whiter campus, we as a board feel that it is necessary to express our fear for the future of marginalized students on this campus. We make a distinction between free speech and speech we identify as backlash.

The speech we are identifying is not patriotic, it is not expressing concern about reverse racism or homeland security, backlash speech is merely an attempt for the privileged to retain their status. We hope that this letter will encourage people to recognize when they are engaging in backlash and to consider their actions and hold themselves accountable to efforts to make Oberlin a socially just and responsible environment for all of its members.

–The Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People Board
–Assiatou Diallo
–Eli Conley

College juniors
–Lydia Pelot-Hobbs
–Marisol LeBrón

To the Editors:

Mike DeWine has been a strong advocate for older Ohioans. He twice voted to repeal the 1993 tax increase on social security benefits. He worked to provide additional funding for support services to caregivers of seniors, and also to senior caregivers who are taking care of their grandchildren and other young relatives.  He cosponsored the “Money Follows the Person” Act (S 971 and HR 2032) which would allow those living in nursing homes to have Medicare money follow them as they transition into other assisted living communities. DeWine voted to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for Medicare drug plans.

Sherrod Brown co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit the federal government from bargaining with drug companies to lower prices for seniors and would require the privatization of services (HR 4770, 2000). Brown voted for the 1993 tax increase which included a provision that raised taxes on Social Security benefits for many older Ohioans. Sherrod Brown receives a great deal of campaign money from the nursing home lobby and as a result, does not support the use of Medicare money for other assisted living situations — he is not pro-choice!

Senator DeWine supports the financial well being of seniors by reducing the tax burden on social security benefits. He believes those who are elderly or disabled should have a choice of how and where they would like to live. DeWine supports federal government negotiations for lower prescription drug prices as well as affordable long-term care insurance. Senator DeWine has worked tirelessly for those who need him most!

–Michael Lisi
Avon Lake, OH

To the Editors:

Last week’s article on the Student Senate didn’t explain Ohio PIRG’s funding very clearly, nor was it very representational of the organization.  All other student organizations on the Oberlin campus are funded directly by the student activities fee on our tuition, and the Student Finance Committee allocates the amount of funds that these organizations receive.  In other words, the students don’t directly decide how much of their tuition goes where. 

This is where Oberlin’s chapter of OPIRG is different. Ohio PIRG is funded by an $8 waivable fee that is added on to the student activities part of our tuition. To be able to do this, OPIRG has to get 51 percent of the student body to sign a petition to do so, which is called the “Reaffirmation.” So, what is in it for the student? The freedom to choose where your money goes. The student gets to decide twice: whether or not to sign the petition and reaffirm OPIRG, and whether or not to waive the $8 fee. The Reaffirmation is a testament to OPIRG as an organization — it requires us to connect and communicate with the student body. It’s a demonstration of how quickly, efficiently and effectively we can organize, so that we can work on more important campaigns like protecting the environment, promoting local foods and mobilizing the student body to vote. 

Some have attacked Ohio PIRG for a lack of efficacy, but what I would like to raise is the question of what exactly is meant by the word “effective.”  Ohio PIRG is an important organization on campus that enables activism to affect change in the world. Ohio PIRG students are campaigning to protect Lake Erie from oil drilling, to promote local foods, combat hunger and homelessness through days of service and to register and mobilize students to vote. On this diversely active campus, we not only help build coalitions to increase everyone’s impact, but we give students an avenue for grassroots organizing and making positive social change.

–Rebecca Eiseman
College sophomore

To the Editor:
Ohio’s new voting ID requirement aims to disenfranchise the lower income and student voters. However, the Ohio legislature’s intents have failed drastically here at Oberlin College. I’m proud of the student groups at Oberlin (PIRG, ACLU, OC Dems, etc) who have stepped up to help beat this absurd new law. Pre-filled forms and twelve hour a day drop-off tables have made voting registration as simple as ever. As if that isn’t over-the-top enough, a campus-wide dorm canvassing will be happening this week. All this for your voice! So, get out your pen and register to VOTE.

–Gabe Stewart
College first-year

To the Editors:

In the last midterm election, the voter turnout was about 35 percent. About one-third of the voting population decided who was to fill about 470 seats in Congress — that makes sense. Oh it doesn’t. Back in 1776, everyone was pretty mad about no taxation without representation, which is definitely one of the main reasons why we created a representative democracy. You would think that in this country we would be a little more enthusiastic about midterm elections. Of course it’s very important to vote in the presidential elections (about 15 percent more people do). However, you can’t call up the President and tell him that you don’t want people drilling for oil in Lake Erie because you have to drink that water, or that it’s important to you that government grants for college tuition don’t continue to get smaller and smaller every year. For things like that you call your congressmen, send them a letter or vote for someone who will better represent you. As mind blowing as this may seem, they work for you; they want to keep you happy so that they can keep their job. They will only represent you if you tell them what you want and you can get rid of them if they don’t.

The next midterm election is coming up in a little over a month. The November Committee here on campus has been trying so hard to get every student who can vote the opportunity to vote. It has been a difficult process because it seems the Ohio Board of Elections has been a little standoffish when it comes to answering the students’ questions. The rules here in Ohio have changed and it has become harder for students to vote. In a demographic (18-24) that doesn’t need any help in not voting, this is very frustrating. I’ve heard people say they don’t want us to vote because we are not permanent residents and are thus making it much more of a hassle. Representation doesn’t require a time commitment; there are things that will affect us in the next one, two or three years that we are here. About half the people on this campus will be here for the next elections, and we deserve to have a say in who represents us until then.

–Natalie Price
College sophomore


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