(from the New Yorker):
By Nathan Heller
Oberlin, it started in December, when the temperatures ran high, although the weeping willows and the yellow poplars that had flared in the fall were bare already. Problems had a tendency to escalate. There was, to name one thing, the food fight: students had noted the inauthenticity of food at the school’s Afrikan Heritage House, and followed up with an on-site protest. (Some international students, meanwhile, complained that cafeteria dishes such as sushi and bánh mì were prepared with the wrong ingredients, making a mockery of cultural cuisine.) There was scrutiny of the curriculum: a student wanted trigger warnings on “Antigone.” And there was all the world outside. A year earlier, a black boy with a pellet gun named Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer thirty miles east of Oberlin’s campus, and the death seemed to instantiate what students had been hearing in the classroom and across the widening horizons of their lives. Class and race mattered. Power in a system would privilege its authors. After a grand jury declined to indict Rice’s shooter, the prosecutor called the death a “perfect storm of human error.”
Weeks passed. Finals came and went. The media turned its attention to the approaching Iowa caucus, while on campus an unease spread like a cold front coming off the lake. In mid-December, a group of black students wrote a fourteen-page letter to the school’s board and president outlining fifty nonnegotiable demands for changes in Oberlin’s admissions and personnel policies, academic offerings, and the like. “You include Black and other students of color in the institution and mark them with the words ‘equity, inclusion and diversity,’ ” it said, “when in fact this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.”
The letter was delivered by hand, but it leaked onto the Internet, and some of the more than seven hundred students who had signed it were hit with threats and hate speech online from anonymous accounts. The president, Marvin Krislov, rejected the letter’s stance, urging “collaboration.”
All across Oberlin—a school whose norms may run a little to the left of Bernie Sanders—there was instead talk about “allyship”: a more contemporary answer to the challenges of pluralism. If you are a white male student, the thought goes, you cannot know what it means to be, say, a Latina; the social and the institutional worlds respond differently to her, and a hundred aggressions, large and small, are baked into the system. You can make yourself her ally, though—deferring to her experience, learning from her accounts, and supporting her struggles. You can reach for unity in difference.
On February 25th, TheTower.org published an article that included screenshots from the Facebook feed of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin. The posts suggested, among other things, that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that isis was a puppet of Mossad and the C.I.A., and that the Rothschild family owned “your news, the media, your oil, and your government.” The posts did not sit well with everyone at Oberlin, where, weeks earlier, a group of alumni and students had written the president with worries about anti-Semitism on campus; the board of trustees denounced Karega’s Facebook activities. As a teacher, however, she’d been beloved by many students and considered an important faculty advocate for the school’s black undergraduates. The need for allyship became acute. And so, with spring approaching, students and faculty at one of America’s most progressive colleges felt pressured to make an awkward judgment: whether to ally themselves with the black community or whether to ally themselves with the offended Jews. CONTINUE READING HERE