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Social tensions pose a problem to the Oberlin community

Town residents cite preferential treatment of students

by Laren Rusin

Oberlin's town-gown relations have always been tense, but why they are problematic is a study in College policy and assumptions people make about each other.

"I suppose I've been trespassing for years, but officially the College doesn't know about it," said Rippy, official granola maker for Harkness Co-op since sometime in the '80s. He finds Oberlin to be "a damn friendly place" and has felt welcome here from the beginning, when he came in 1977.

Many people in the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association are familiar with Rippy, or at least his name. As well as a famed granola maker, he plays in the campus band Band With Pants. He even marched in a graduation and shook former president S. Frederick Starr's hand, though he's never attended Oberlin College. He's a sort of college legacy.

"It's sort of nice, if you like being famous," he said of his fame on campus. But he "stays out of the way of the police," a practice many town residents follow.

"I don't have much perception of College policy -- I've never had any run-ins with Security," said Curtis McCartney, a town resident who's lived here all his life. He first started interacting socially with College students when he was part of an Oberlin High School radio club which had a weekly show at WOBC.

Some town residents feel such practices as making concerts and events cheaper for those who hold OCIDs excludes townspeople or those outside the official Oberlin community. McCartney thinks some town residents feel social tensions and that many students are "culturally alien" to them.

"I feel I have a kind of uncommon perspective on the whole thing because I've always felt alienated from my peers, so I don't see the College as a bunch of freaks and queers ... but I don't really have an objective view," McCartney said.

McCartney also thinks there is economic tension; that there is resentment of the "better-off" families of College students. He also said there is a widespread belief that College students are less likely to get in trouble with the police.

"Most students, faculty and administrators realize a whole lot of money is being spent to protect students from the real world," said Eric Schliecher, a town resident who graduated from Oberlin in 1994.

Something that comes up frequently as a point of contention for town residents is the discrepancy in the way the police treat college students and non-college students when trouble arises.

"Hell yeah there's a major difference in how [the police] treat townies and students," said a town resident who wished to remain anonymous.

"If you're a student you're putting a hell of a lot of money into this town. Without the College, this town wouldn't be on the map. So if you go here your parents presumably have money, and that's another factor," she said.

The College has a No Trespass Letter policy, which states that if a non-Oberlin community member is found violating College policy or is putting an Oberlin community member in danger, they recieve a no trespass letter, which is a formal warning not to come on the Oberlin campus.

While Safety and Security is working out the details of the list, and re-evaluating who should and shouldn't remain on the list, the basic policy still stands.

The town resident who wishes to remain anonymous feels the policy may sometimes be necessary, but that it is often used with instances that are "blown out of the water."

Schliecher feels the no trespass policy is "like a parent saying 'your kid can't play with my kid' and I think that's a poor way of dealing with things."

"It's weird for people who grew up here and then are barred from a large portion of the town that the College owns," Schliecher said of the policy. Schliecher feels it's an accepted fact that college kids are going to get in trouble. "When bad things happen, people look to the town as a source of trouble," he said.

" 'Whose town is this?' becomes a serious question when the College tells someone who's lived here all their life they're not allowed in half of the town, especially the outdoor parts," Schliecher said.

He said the police are much more relaxed during the summer, and allow high school students to hang around outdoors at night, but once the school year approaches, the police run town residents "off the streets."

The City of Oberlin enacted a curfew for minors in October of '94, which states "no person under eighteen years of age shall be in or upon any public street, highway, park, vacant lot or other public place between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. of the following day, Sunda thorugh Thursday, or between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 5:00 a.m., Friday and Saturday."

Townspeople feel this curfew further separates townspeople from College students, placing restrictions on the town to which the College doesn't have to adhere.

Schliecher feels town residents are seen as bad influences upon College students. When Schliecher was a student, he said there were many more off-campus parties where the student-town resident ratio was about equal. While there were fights between College students and non-College students, Schliecher feels they resulted from relationships that had gone bad, but he feels that there were relationships, and that was important.

"College parties seem to be the only parties going on," McCartney said. "You know you can go there and have an interesting time." He thinks parties themselves have changed over the past few years.

"Even in the last five to seven years, contact between the town and the College has diminished," Schliecher said. "I think students have become more narrow-minded about who they'll hang out with."

"This is definitely a town with tracks," Schliecher said. "It's rare to see students on the other side."


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 22, April 25, 1997

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