Students discuss unity at forum

by Margo Lipschultz

Approximately 100 students gathered at Afrikan Heritage House Monday night to discuss the future of the demands articulated in a flier distributed at a unified demonstration held before Fall Break.

Demonstrators on Mudd Library's ramp Oct. 16 voiced demands for higher levels of institutional support of campus diversity. Both the demonstration and the meeting attracted a diverse group of participants. Monday's meeting exposed a large gap between students who have long dealt with the concerns raised by the demonstration and those who had less familiarity with the issues.

Co-facilitators junior Anthony Johnson and senior Rich Santiago attempted to outline the protestors' goals at the outset of the meeting. The goals currently include instituting mechanisms of structural support for Oberlin College students of color, low-income students, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, first-generation students and women, as well as other under-represented campus groups.

"This forum is happening because there has been this mythical dream that Oberlin has achieved diversity and is this liberal mecca of all groups, but the administration has not adhered to its principle of supporting students," Johnson told students who were curious about the nature of the forum.

"Oberlin draws people in with this promise of utopia, but the administration is running rampant in terms of changes in faculty without the consent of students," Santiago said.

Santiago cautioned that he and Johnson had not organized the forum to protest former Dean of Student Life and Services Charlene Cole-Newkirk's sudden resignation on Oct 13.

"This needs to be an all-inclusive coalition," Santiago said. "It can't be a Dean Cole rally and be inclusive to everyone because not everyone likes Dean Cole."

Of concern to Santiago and Johnson is the retention rate of diverse faculty and staff members. Many students at the forum called for continued activism in formulating the coalition which would work to remedy this situation.

"We can all sit here and say all these things that are very true, but there are also faculty committees and advisory councils we could all be signing up for right now. We have to worry about representing ourselves," sophomore Sam Taylor said.

Santiago and Johnson would like the coalition to represent the unified voice of many diverse communities on campus. "Under this large umbrella of changing the world, or at least changing Oberlin College, are smaller groups. We're still working toward individual goals but under a united front," Santiago said. "This will take more commitment than just this week, just this month, just this year. We have to make sure we're committed. We're all trying to get our voices heard and our issues heard."

It is the noise of all these voices trying to make themselves heard at once that led many students to express frustration about the forum's lack of focus.

"I don't think we can talk about it very much longer; that's not to say we don't have important things to say, but we need to pick some main goals. Just talking about our issues isn't going to do anything. It would be good to get focus," junior Shayla Mitchell said.

"When you're building a coalition, to me that says this is what we're united on, and as of right now I don't know what it is we're united on," junior Kirti Baranwal said.

Some students were confused about what measures of activism it is necessary to take. "I need to be able to support other people whether I agree with them or not," Gina Robinson, double-degree senior said.. "I'm not here as part of any club-there are no clubs for straight white girls at Oberlin that I'm aware of. I want to know what it is you need me to fight for at Oberlin."

"I really think all these meetings we're going to aren't going to do all that much. I think we should be protesting some more," one student said.

Santiago, however, disagreed. "Our demonstration was the icing on the cake. . . yes, we do want to make a public display of our unity. But that's just an outward thing that's very superficial," he said.

Less radical short-term goals highlighted by Johnson and Santiago to give focus to the coalition included handing fliers out at Tuesday's General Faculty meeting and talking with Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) organizational leaders, as well as meeting for small-group discussion with President of the College Nancy Dye and Dean of the College Clayton Koppes.

"This is all the same struggle and we shouldn't lose sight of that," Santiago said.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 7, October 31, 1997

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