College Was Late in King Day Observance
The College recently decided to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday. That’s good. It does, however, raise an interesting question: what took them so long? Why, at Oberlin College, venerated seat of progressive multiculturalism, first to admit blacks, women, etc., etc., did it take until 2001, the 21st century for crying out loud, to recognize King? And why was it never an issue?
The last question is the easiest one to answer. King Day is right at the end of Winter Term, when students are either just arriving back from elsewhere or are acclimated to the timeless nature of January in Oberlin. Since classes aren’t in session, students have no reason to notice the absence of King Day observance.
This also speaks volumes about the detatchedness of Oberlin students from the College community and the people who protect, serve, clean for and administer them. The King Day non-observance was a non-issue in part because Oberlin students never cared to make it an issue, or knew that it might be an issue. The Review and its staff were as guilty of this negligence as any other Oberlin group or students.
Even the National Football League, that great bastion of progressivism, deprived Arizona of a Super Bowl hosting opportunity until the state’s voters approved King Day as a full state holiday. That was in 1991; Arizona finally got to host the Super Bowl in 1996, after its voters did indeed approve the holiday.
So that’s who we’re behind now: the NFL and Arizona. And everyone else.
Yes, it is good that the College finally recognized the holiday. Rather obviously, the administration has not made noise about the action, as it would draw attention to the previous non-observance. The issue, to the extent that it has been addressed and resolved, is again a non-issue. But it is instructive in what it says about the College and College community.
Last week this paper ran an editorial praising the administration for new efforts at transparency and amenability to student needs and concerns. This is not a retraction of that column by any means. In fact, the observance of King Day may be the latest in a series of new, progressive efforts; the lack of publicity, though, does raise concerns that the College may be selectively promoting its actions.
This issue should also serve to remind the Oberlin campus of a central truth of both progressivism and activism: they don’t just happen. There are plenty of groups on this campus that realize this truth to varying degrees, but too often they (and their views and agendas) fall victim to the limitations and constraints of the famous Oberlin Bubble. In some instances this is appropriate –– in others (as in this one) it is not acceptable. If we really believe we can change the world, we must transcend these constraints.
Art Space Needed
William Morris once said, “I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.” Whatever else one may choose to say about Oberlin’s adherence to Morris’ ideas, or to diversity or freedom, one can confidently say that at present, Oberlin chooses “art for a few.”
It does not do so, perhaps, in the same manner that Morris intended. He meant to oppose the elitism of art –– and perhaps Oberlin does not do that, either. But most students here never get the chance to find out, as the Oberlin art department is the most critically understaffed and cramped for space of any department at the College.
Prospective studio art majors are often left discouraged by the difficulty of registering for the severely limited spaces for classes. Students who arrive already decided on an art major rely on registration good luck, summer classes or LCCC to complete the major. Other students who might consider taking an art class and who might fall in love with the subject are similarly discouraged. And forget just taking an art class for fun, at least until your senior year.
This situation is really a shameful one, and, even more shamefully, it is one that will likely not change without a major restructuring of College priorities. Whenever there are slots allotted for additional professors, many departments vie for the limited places, leaving it all but impossible to garner more than one or two additional positions over several years. Even within the broad scope of the art department, there are many smaller interests each staking their claim to attention: studio art, art history, film studies. Quite frankly, each of these departments should be made more accessible to potential majors, as well as to non-majors simply interested in expanding their horizons. This will not happen without a sea-change in College attitudes toward art. Until the College stops treating art as simply another department and begins to realize that it is something broader and grander, the pitiful status quo will remain in place.
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