Reader Post: Surviving Oberlin
I’m a recent graduate of Oberlin College (2016), which has made the news recently for its idiosyncratic, divisive take on academia.
I graduated in good academic standing with degrees in Politics and English, and I was fortunate to have good experiences with my professors who by in large respected me, as I respected them. This may have been because I was a hardworking student, or because I avoided the most ideological departments that I fear turned out nothing but radicals totally incapable of rational discussion, listening, or empathy.
The student body was another story. From my freshman year onward, I noticed a lively campus debate about Israeli foreign policy. At the time, I would have called myself a bleeding heart liberal or even a leftist. However, my experiences among these students made me realize that not only was I not a leftist, I had never met one before.
At the time, I believed the much repeated dogma “We’re anti-Zionist, not antisemitic.” Then I was fired from my job as editor of a satirical student newspaper because “my positions on Zionism and Israel made some of the other editors uncomfortable.” Keep in mind, I have never been terribly religious, nor had I been very vocal about my discomfort with the one-sidedness of the narrative we were writing. Nevertheless, when I simply voiced my discomfort about some writers’ rants about modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion, controlling the US economy from hiding, I was immediately placed into the box of “Zio,” a word I began to hear more and more at Oberlin.
During Finals of that year, my junior year, many students formed a wall of painted wooden barricades across the entrance to the library. The idea was to prevent people from working and listen to the protesters’ demands, one of which was total divestment from Israel as a part of a laundry list of complaints of ‘Eurocentrism, white supremacy, and neocolonialism.’ Trying to enter the library through the placards and the protesters holding them was my first brush with true mob mentality. I heard “Zio,” and “Kike!” shouted at me along with actual raw bacon, thrown by a cowardly student protester. When I looked up in shock, the crowd dissipated to man their barricade.
Although the Administration is at fault for fostering an academic environment tolerant of open acts of antisemitism, it is through fear of its own students rather than malice. Recently, a rhetoric (and social justice) professor was fired for posting a series of antisemitic cartoons on her Facebook account, some of which she had gotten from the Neo-Nazi website, Stormfront. Despite her blatant antisemitism, the college was utterly paralyzed by the event, as many students dismissed the feelings of Jewish students as “Zionist apologia” or more ignorantly “white privilege.” They flocked to the antisemitic teachers’ aid, saying that accusations of antisemitism simply served to ‘silence people of color.’ (The professor in question was black.) Finally, the Board of Trustees stepped in and did the right thing. But it took nearly an entire academic year. A full year of this bigot remaining a teacher for young, impressionable minds. To make matters worse, the dean in charge of her investigation was Meredith Raimondo, whom The Tower reported has a history of antisemitic bias. In other words, the woman in charge of the investigation of a professors’ alleged antisemitism was herself incapable of recognizing it. Now the Trustees’ entrance into the mess seems rational.