Students To Address Wahoo Issues in Tuesday's Forumby Alyson Dame
While Oberlin students will spend the weekend recovering from the stress of last week's papers or studying for next week's finals, a select few will be contemplating how to make the most out of Tuesday's meeting with Cleveland Indians owner and Oberlin Trustee Larry Dolan. Dolan has requested an intimate setting with a small number of students and a few faculty members.
Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith said, "Senate has been invited to participate and will likely do so, although they have wanted to ensure that they are not numerically dominant. I have also been in touch with senior Amber Schulz, co-chair of the American Indian Council at Oberlin, who is working to draw up a list of names. There has also been some effort to involve a couple members of the faculty who have likewise shown knowledge of and interest in the Chief Wahoo issue."
Schulz met with Goldsmith and selected eight students. "They have vocalized interest in the Wahoo issue and I feel that they will be able to rationally articulate their concerns to Mr. Dolan," Schulz said. On Schulz's list were senior Johanna Almiron, junior Kasi Chakravartula, senior Kerri Greenidge, junior Sharon Tantoco, junior Ananda Timpane, senior Sam Greenberg, sophomore Miriam Jackson and junior Jorge Sanchez.
Schulz was satisfied by the format and said, "I know that Mr. Dolan wants to have a certain amount of control over it, which is understandable. I can imagine how intimidating it is for him to come in and talk to us, knowing how angry and upset we are over the issue. He might not know our reasons, but I'm sure he knows our passion. I respect him for giving us this opportunity."
Junior Auriel Willette opposes the symbol but also thinks Dolan is taking a big step speaking with students, "As a Native American, I deeply object to the symbol of Wahoo. Yet Dolan clearly wishes to be addressed by the student body on some level. To my mind, that act takes a great deal of courage and I commend him for it."
Senior Neil Gray is hopeful that Dolan will be receptive to students' ideas. "[Dolan's] willingness to come and speak with us is encouraging. I think it indicates that he might be open-minded on the issue, and genuinely consider any well-articulated arguments we can offer."
Schulz would like the meeting to focus on opening up dialogue between Dolan and concerned students. "I would like to come to an understanding. I would like to see Dolan internalize our concerns and truly understand why we are upset with the mascot, and I'm sure Mr. Dolan would really like us to understand where he comes from. Right now it's all about opening up dialogue and trying to see all sides of the issue so that both parties can be sensitive to both sides," she said.
Chakravartula, a resident coordinator in Third World House, was more aggressive. "When Larry Dolan comes, Third World House will break it down real simple: Wahoo must go. It's bad for business, and it's racist," she said. Chakravartula planned to ask Dolan questions such as: "Why did you decide to become a Board member of Oberlin College? Do you know of our reputation as a progressive and liberal institution? If so, do you recognize the contradictions between that progressive tradition and the racial implications of the Indians' mascot Chief Wahoo?"
Schulz emphasized educating Dolan. "I don't think that Dolan can see the mascot as being offensive," she said. "We need to try to explain to him that the people who it is made to represent, or rather mimic, are offended. We need to explain to him that it is destructive to our children who are desperately trying to grasp some sort of identity while having this grotesque caricature wave in their faces; that it perpetuates a racial stereotype of our people."
Schulz does not expect, or intend, for Dolan to step down from the Board of Trustees. "That isn't at all what we are asking. If he does want to be a Trustee though, he needs to know that we don't agree with his business and we need to talk about it. This is really a fabulous opportunity. Dolan has interests in Oberlin; we have the opportunity to be listened to by someone who has the power to change things. If we can sway his opinion, and have him see why it is that the mascot is so offensive, things may change. I think this can be a really great opportunity if we handle it right," she said.
Chakravartula was less optimistic. "We recognize that Larry Dolan is a businessman and will most likely not get rid of Chief Wahoo because thousands of white Indians fans out there would throw a fit and it would be bad for business," she said. "In a school which prides itself on its progressive history and diverse student body, how can we possibly pretend to be a place of higher learning while allowing the owner of Chief Wahoo - a symbol which has had genocidal consequences on an entire race of people - to sit on the Board of Trustees?"
Some faculty took a very different stance on Wahoo.
Professor of economics Hirschel Kasper argued that the debate was subjective. "I don't have any clothing [with the symbol] but I don't think it's a big issue. Whether a symbol is "racist" is in the mind of the beholder. Some people take offense and some people don't see it that way. I don't see it as racist. There is a symbol out there and what we make of it depends on our understanding, background and experience," Kasper said.
Associate Professor of physics John Scofield shared a similar view. "I do not find the symbol to be racist. I don't associate the name of the symbol with Native Americans at all. I associate it with the Cleveland baseball team. Quite frankly, I think that there are a few more important issues in this world to get excited about," Scofield said.
Scofield also called the College community "arrogant" for their actions. "The arrogance is in thinking that we at Oberlin have some leverage over Mr. Dolan, now that he is a trustee, to make him change a long standing Cleveland tradition, good or bad."
Scofield suggested another alternative to the College's behavior. "Shut up about Wahoo; appreciate Mr. Dolan's contribution to the Board of Trustees and maybe over time, he will, without our loud clamor, come to see that there is something incommensurate with his association with Oberlin College and his use of Chief Wahoo."
Scofield disagrees with claims that Dolan being a Trustee might be considered contradictory to Oberlin's progressive tradition. "Oberlin has a long tradition of taking help and money from anyone who will give it. Tobacco companies helped fund the Joseph Lewis Center for environmental studies. Some of the worst polluters in this country have funded student internships here at Oberlin. And frankly, I am glad to take their money and assistance."
He rhetorically questioned a hypothetically stricter procedure for Oberlin's acceptance of money. "Do we really want to begin investigating all the activities of anyone associated with the College to see if their money is ‘pure'? If so, should we start investigating how student parents make their money? Who knows, maybe some students here today have parents that work in the defense industry. Should we kick them out of school so that we won't take those defense dollars?"
Visiting Assistant Professor of photography Will Wilson (OC '93) agreed with Schulz and Chakravartula concerning Wahoo and Dolan. "I've always just written it off as something circulated around me that I'm going to have to deal with. I've always felt the image is racist. If someone walked into my class with an Indians hat, I'd ask them to leave, or I'd sit them down and ask them to not come to class with the image," Wilson said.
Wilson felt that attempts to educate Dolan might be futile. "It's so obviously racist, if you have to ask [whether it's racist or not], you'll never know. There is a point where you can educate a person so much and if there stance is still, ‘yes, I will continue to represent Indian people in a dehumanizing way,' then what does that mean?"
Wilson agreed with the idea that having Dolan as a Trustee remains contradictory to Oberlin's progressive mentality. "One of the things important about Oberlin College is its dedication to social justice. That's why I came here. To have the owner of the Cleveland Indians on the Board of Trustees, a man who's promulgated this racist representation on a mass scale, is incredibly shameful. I think Oberlin College should be ashamed. It totally flies in the face of what Oberlin College stands for."
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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