Steffany Haaz
(photo by Keith Weller)

Former students speak reverently of Oberlin’s faculty, its diversity, and its nurturing of intellectual and creative spirit as traits that made for an easy transition to graduate school—in some cases, easier than the transition to Oberlin itself.

Martin Collcutt, head of the East Asian studies program at Princeton, says “some of our finest graduate students in fields such as religion, art history, history, Chinese, and Japanese have been Oberlin graduates. I have been here for 25 years and find Oberlin students are well trained and work effectively.”

One such Princeton PhD is Tariq al-Jamil ’95, who says he knew little about Oberlin beyond its legacy of educating blacks and women; that’s why he chose the place: “Other schools wouldn’t have taken me 150 years ago.”

With a master’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate in Islamic law and social history from Princeton, al-Jamil now teaches religion and Islamic studies at North Carolina State University. He lectures extensively within the U.S. and abroad and is completing a manuscript on Shi’i-Sunni relations in 13th- and 14th-century Baghdad. He credits his growth as scholar to his relationships with Oberlin religion faculty members A.G. Miller and James Morris and says he remains close friends with each.

Tariq al-Jamil
(photo by Winsted Photography)

Bethany Schneider ’93, says her awakening as an intellectual sprang in part from small-group discussions at Oberlin and her semester in London—“intensive and powerful, with really top-notch students.” She earned her PhD at Cornell University, turning her thesis on a 19th-century Maryland slave girl into an article for E! Magazine. Now, as an assistant professor of English at Bryn Mawr, she teaches and writes about Native American and Anglo American colonial literature.

“I really found myself as a scholar at Oberlin,” she says. “I saw professors whose lives were all about following their interests. People invite you into conversation, which is an intellectual endeavor rather than an achievement or competition. It is about the growth of a whole person.”

Faculty members agree, adding that the challenges posed by Oberlin—rigorous coursework, hands-on research opportunities, and independent study experiences—prepare students well for graduate school. “Oberlin gives students what I like to call a ‘value-added education,’” says James Dobbins. “Whether or not they were the top students coming out of high school, when Oberlin students graduate, they compete head-to-head with the best students in the country.

“People at other colleges like to say ‘Our students study hard and play hard,’” he adds. “But for a large number of Oberlin students, the study is the play.”

Jim Lawless is a retired Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter who wrote about everything from pollution and public housing to politics and poetry. He says he had a terrible time keeping this story to six pages because the graduates he interviewed were so bright, diverse, and modest. If there is a problem with the “dumbing down” of America, it isn’t in their corner, he says. They are wrecking the bell curve.