Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Summer 2011 Vol. 106 No. 3 OAM Home | Oberlin Online

Beyond Oberlin

Social Media in the Age of Nero

Neropolis lets classics students fiddle with social networking. (Mount Sinai School of Medicine)

Clara Shaw Hardy ’83, the chair of Carleton College’s classics department, had trouble getting her students to understand the mindset of people who lived in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.

"We had this recurring issue of, ‘This guy was crazy. Why didn’t somebody just kill him?’" says Hardy. "They couldn’t understand how somebody like Nero could stay in power."

To bring the period into perspective for her students, she developed an online game called Neropolis that brings ancient Rome to modern America. The game uses a Facebook-like social networking platform to immerse students in the social, historical, and artistic milieu of about 50 A.D., especially the political intrigue surrounding the emperor.

To play Neropolis, students are assigned a fictional character to portray online, along with a mission to carry out, such as a social climber, a spy for Nero, or a conspirator bent on his assassination. Students keep their online identities secret, creating their own avatars, messages, and special events based on their social status and roles.

Killing Nero requires several gamers to simultaneously post "Death to Nero!" on his wall—more difficult than it might seem, given that revealing plans to the wrong person—an informant—could result in execution for treason.

"What Neropolis really shows is the anxiety that you feel from having someone have this kind of arbitrary power over you," says Jenn Thomas, a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin, who used Neropolis as a teaching tool in two classics courses.

Hardy, who earned her PhD at Brown, was happy to share the Neropolis concept with Oberlin, where she has deep family ties. Her grandfather, Frank Holcomb Shaw, was dean of the conservatory from 1924 to 1949. Her father grew up in Oberlin, and her mother, Julia Seiberling Shaw ’47, comes from a long line of Oberlin alumna. Hardy’s brother, Frank Shaw ’76, sent all three of his children to Oberlin, the youngest of which will be a senior this fall.

Commencement/Reunion Weekend Began on Friday, Friday

Seniors at this year’s senior supper—the final gathering of a graduating class before commencement—were given a very special treat: a parody of the viral video for Rebecca Black’s song Friday. Oberlin’s Friday featured President Marvin Krislov, sometimes in a wig, singing the exuberant and hypnotically literal anthem to the weekend. Dean of Students Linda Gates, Dean of Studies Kathryn Stuart, and Danielle Young, executive director of the Oberlin Alumni Association, also appear in the film, as do alumni Ben Jones ’96, Oberlin’s vice president for communications, and David Stull ’89, dean of the Oberlin Conservatory. The video was produced by Daniel Schloss ’07, associate director for media production. To see the video parody, visit oberlin.edu/Friday (you can also search for it on YouTube). Except for actually happening on Thursday, the senior supper video captured the campus mood for Commencement/Reunion Weekend perfectly: "I don’t want this weekend to end!"

In Other Words

"Because when I went [to visit] I found the math department’s student/faculty tea and I’d never seen that many people at the same time who liked math jokes."

–Andreas Duus Pape ’98 answering the question "Why did you choose Oberlin?" on the Oberlin Facebook page [http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2228041996&topic=2656].


"Just got invited to see Gaga on Tuesday. What do I wear? Womb out of the question: flesh tones wash me out."

–Kim France ’87, writer, founding editor of Lucky, 11:38 a.m. Feb. 19, via Twitter


"Never in the history of Oberlin College has a graduate of that small, left-leaning Ohio intellectual and musical enclave been called ‘the most important player in the National Football League.’ But that’s the label that U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson, Oberlin ’74, achieved Monday when she was so designated by an ESPN SportsCenter commentator."

–Jay Weiner, Tuesday, April 5, 2011, Minnesota Post. Nelson is overseeing negotiations between players and owners.


"I’m still dealing with the irony that, after being a clown on children’s TV, I got this high-profile role as a killer."

–actor and clown Bill Irwin ’73, who has played both Mr. Noodle (on Sesame Street ) and sociopath Nate Haskell (on CSI: Las Vegas)


"I’ve had quite a few discussions today that have caused me to throw my notes away about four times. And if I got one thing from being here, it’s that there is a hunger for activism. This, after all, is Oberlin."

–writer and activist Gloria Steinem, in her March talk at Oberlin


"I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: When you come back for your 50th reunion in 2061, you will look just as old as you think we do today. The good news is: your eyes adjust. We don’t think we look nearly as old as you think we do."

–Larry Herndon ’61, speaking at the Alumni-Senior Celebration Luncheon, Commencement/Reunion Weekend


If I had gone to art school, to a writing conservatory, or into an engineering program, I would certainly be more skilled—but so much of the world would remain invisible to me.

–blogger Harris Lapiroff '10, on the value of his Oberlin education