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Commentary

Foundation promotes activism

As seniors accept their long-awaited diplomas Monday in Tappan Square, they will leave behind a world we often think of as different from most other places. Oberlin, as an institution, provides a unique foundation for students to explore their views and ideals in the classroom and outside of it. Activism is strong on campus, and students use their voices and intellect to reflect and share with the student community their respective concerns and needs. Although Oberlin students' strength lies largely in activism, we often find ourselves quick to respond to issues that deserve more time and communication between various parties. We argue that our institution cannot tolerate many issues tolerated outside of Oberlin, yet our intolerance often mirrors the problems we see arise in the "outside" world.

This 96-97 academic year could be seen as the year of oppositional conspiracy for students. Groups of students, wet with selective skepticism and angst, pinpointed and clashed with lots of institutional ideas and realities. Throughout the year, students have led campaigns against various departments and leaders of the Oberlin administration. Students individually and collectively demonstrated their unwillingness to accept particular administrative actions. Many students played the role of plaintiff while departments and administrations took turns at defendant, often deflecting or conceding to the attacks. For instance;

Labeling everything we vehemently disagree with as conspiracy seems part and parcel of being Oberlin students. It's easy to really dig in and take a bite out of administrators or institutional mainstays because they generally aren't going to bite back. Really, our attempts to change or regulate the forces that dictate our Oberlin world aren't met with nearly as much hostility and single-mindedness as they might be met in other institutions. The reasons for this might lie in Oberlin's staggering cost and the college's history as a premier American harbinger of student rights and change the world mind-sets. Whatever the reasons, much of Oberlin's student activism is a form of checks and balances on the Oberlin administration. Institutions like colleges and universities need students to voice their opinions because invariably, without the check by students, they would make decisions that would adversely affect students.

Although we cannot consider ourselves a part of a democratic institution at Oberlin, students have found ways for the administration to respect and take into consideration concerns including promoting diversity in the student body and faculty, larger financial aid packages for students, additional curriculum, concentrations, and departments, and a greater support for representation for the student body. Oberlin's uniqueness lies in its history of reflecting attitudes of the student community. The administration and the instituion itself are by no means angels, but students have to realize that Oberlin is probably the most receptive of institutions that they will ever have to confront in the real world. With its foundation, Oberlin students should continue checking the administration by appreciating the role we are given as well as strengthening the role we have embraced throughout history.


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Oberlin

Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 25, May 23, 1997

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