Oberlin Shuns Critical Thought
by Adrian Leung
Oberlin lied to me. I enrolled thinking this school would institutionally challenge our thinking, our security, the things we labeled “normal.”
Oberlin does not challenge students. In fact, Oberlin perpetuates the failure to question privilege.
In my four years, and particularly in these last two weeks, evidence only continues to amass to support the idea that Oberlin promotes these problems and oppression.
Let me begin by saying that attending any college is a privilege. My graduation will grant me access most other Americans will never experience or even conceive of.
However, the fact that Oberlin represents this access to power does not negate the fact that it can also be oppressive. If anything, the privilege of being a college student might be the thing that blinds us to our perpetuation of other privileges — male, straight, rich, white.
Recently, Zeke became co-ed. I can understand the ensuing frenzy due to the College’s failure to consult Zeke in the decision making process. But I cannot understand rationalizations for an all-male dorm that sound like, “Women have a safe space. Men need one too.”
Why do men need a safe space? Are men disenfranchised in our society? Are they doing double-shifts as money-makers and home-makers? Do they need to worry about getting raped when they walk alone at night?
If anything, my concern with having no all-male space is that a particular boy –– who will go nameless –– currently living in Zeke, will once again be living amongst women. He was relocated to Zeke because of his perverted desire to peep at women taking showers.
Why are Oberlin students not challenged in their ignorance of male privilege?
Another recent event that exposed the lack of critical thought at Oberlin concerns the “sportsphobia” explosion. Let me make clear: this concept of “sportsphobia” is not a prevalent problem in society. In actuality, America hails athletes. Some students may dislike athletes, and although this is wrong, this prejudice is not institutionally based. Athletes do not worry about going to a certain region of the United States and getting beat up, or lynched, or raped. Athletes aren’t killed because they come out to their friends and tell them they have athletic tendencies.
How can students assert the existence of some non-athlete privilege? Moreover, how can they compare this to racism and heterosexism? Why are these students not challenged in their ignorance of white privilege or straight privilege?
Lastly, Professor of Theater and Dance Roger Copeland sent a letter into the Review denouncing identity politics. The most troubling aspect about his letter was his relation of identity politics to the idea of people limiting themselves. On the contrary, identity politics encourages people to recognize that they are the only masters of themselves, that no one should let someone else define who they are.
I am not at all surprised by the fact that Copeland, a white man, dislikes the notion that he might be invalid in assuming he understands the identity of a woman and/or a person of color. Copeland glorifies the era of pre-identity politics as a time when we “‘imaginatively leap[ed]’ out of ourselves.”
Mr. Copeland, why don’t you imaginatively leap yourself back to pre-identity politics, and slap on some blackface while you’re there. Do me a personal favor and tape your eyes back too.
Given that students aren’t being challenged to question their privilege, I should not be surprised that the chair of the theater and dance department does not recognize the problems of one person making presumptions upon the identity of another person. It doesn’t surprise me that people of color don’t feel supported in that department.
Why is it that there are still no professors with Queer Studies in their job description? Or why is there no Ethnic Studies department in this “liberal” institution?
The obvious answer is the correct one: this college is not truly dedicated to questioning these social hierarchies. There are too many professors who teach too many students not to think about the privilege they hold and about the oppressive structures they preserve and construct everyday.
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