David Frum

03.08.13

Earth to Oberlin

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John S. Wilson laments Oberlin College’s response to a recent series of racist and homophobic incidents by canceling classes and having a “Day of Solidarity.” While it is noble that Oberlin cares so much about ending hate crimes, creating “a collegiate version of a ‘Sesame Street’ marathon,” as Wilson puts it, won’t solve the problem. Rather, it actually makes the problem much worse.

Oberlin passed up an opportunity. Instead of canceling classes, they should have continued normal business while finding ways to draw upon their incredibly strong history of diversity and inclusion.

By canceling classes and generally overreacting - let's face it, racism and baseless discriminatory scrawls on posters and walls will never go away - Oberlin is only sheltering students, instead of assisting them to overcome adversity, an action that would truly fortify their character. What example does this set for students, many of whom will soon be in the workforce? If a supervisor or co-worker offends them, who will be there then to host their day of solidarity?

Growing up in affluent (and mostly white) Manhattan, I experienced situations much like this one. Because many of my friends went from small private prep schools to small private colleges, separation from harsher realities led them to believe that hate crimes do not really exist at all. In fact, a girl once told me (with a straight face) that racism doesn’t exist anymore in America. Oooookay.

Wilson discusses this very problem, and notes that this reaction towards small hate crimes is part of a greater systemic failure of small colleges to teach reality to both white as well as minority students.

The uncomfortable truth is: minority students must know that that no matter how qualified, intelligent, deserving, ambitious or well-intentioned they might be, it is likely they will face adversity to a degree their white peers will not…

Oberlin, or any college, cannot prepare students - particularly minorities - for every adversity they are likely to face. They cannot guarantee employers will be fair or hire solely on merit; or that police officers won’t presume their level of guilt based on the color of their skin. I think it’s safe to say that “positive propaganda” alone will neither instill character in students nor inoculate them from a very biased reality.