The past two months have been tumultuous for Oberlin College, a fellow Great Lakes College Association school. Several incidents of overt racism have been identified.
Graffiti reading “whites only” have been found above drinking fountains. Racist slurs were written on Black History Month posters. On one terrifying night in early March, a figure in Ku Klux Klan regalia was sighted near Oberlin’s Afrikan Heritage House.
These events are jarring for a school reknown for its liberalism. Oberlin was the first college in the United States to allow women and African-Americans to attend, and it prides itself on its progressiveness.
These racist incidents are also concerning for Albion College, given the many similarities between the two schools. Both schools share a culture of acceptance and diversity and use this culture as a big drawing point for recruiting prospective students.
The similarities between the schools raise several questions. Could such incidents happen at Albion? If so, what causes them?
Lequietta Perkins, Chicago, Ill., junior, sees the incidents at Oberlin as larger versions of incidents that have already happened at Albion.
“Albion has already experienced public evidence of racism,” Perkins said. “A few years ago, the school had an open blog on which students could write whatever they want. Students wrote racist slurs and statements on this blog, including students’ names who were African-American, to the point the school had to take it down.”
Perkins also noted a more recent example.
“A student from Albion also has a Twitter account on which he said racist things about black people,” Perkins said.
This student was a member of Student Senate and last year, after their Twitter account came to light, there was a movement by students to have that person removed from Student Senate. Despite numerous petition signatures, the effort failed.
The administration, in its response to the petition, did not find that the student had performed any misconduct.
“A lot of people, including myself, have given up trying to understand what Albion’s goals are,” Perkins said. “Hate speech is a hate crime and not protected by freedom of speech. I feel like the college doesn’t really do anything about it and tries to sweep it under the rug.”
Hannah Allgaier, Ortonville junior, had a similar outlook on the racism.
“The administration needs to be taught how to deal with these incidents just as much as the students,” Allgaier said. “They should bring in people who have first-hand experience with dealing with institutionalized racism.”
Rev. Daniel McQuown, chaplain and director for global diversity for Albion College, offered his take on the college’s role in combating racism.
“It really is higher education’s job, be it at Albion or Oberlin or anywhere, to identify discriminatory tendencies and help students adapt to living in a pluralistic society,” McQuown said.
McQuown was frank about racism and oppression on Albion’s campus.
“Discrimination is a reality, and no institution is immune,” McQuown said. “Undergrad is an important phase of a student’s life, one in which new ideas are introduced and old ones are tested. Racism can happen at Albion, it can happen at Oberlin, it can happen at the University of Michigan.”
McQuown is confident that the support structure Albion provides can help fight oppression.
“The college provides many access points for students,” McQuown said. “Peer leaders, professors and groups all exist to ensure students are comfortable sharing any incidents of discrimination they may experience. Most acts of discrimination are not as public as those at Oberlin and are not easy to vocalize, but we must be consistent and be proactive in identifying and addressing cases.”
It would appear the administration and students have differing views on the racism that occurs on-campus. However, Perkins, McQuown and Allgaier all offer suggestions on how to improve.
“Ignorance plays a big part in a lot of things, especially racism,” Perkins said. “People do things because it’s what they’re used to or think it’s funny, so you have to take steps to educate yourself. Groups like the Black Student Alliance is not just for black students. Students of all races are part of BSA. We try to raise awareness of other cultures.”
Allgaier suggested reaching out to the greater Albion community.
“We need to get rid of the racist and classist word ‘townies,’ and we need to teach our students that the people who live in our community are also important,” Allagaier said.
Rev. McQuown felt that honest introspection can create a healthier outlook.
“Looking at Oberlin, it’s easy to see that as an ‘over there’ experience,” McQuown said. “We need to be aware that discrimination still happens in our society. Inner work is necessary to identify your own biases, and if you find that you have discriminatory thoughts, tell someone, and maybe you can come to some new views and ideas. We should not ignore our Umbrella groups, or our faculty and staff. We must all be allies.”
Although the racism present at Albion may not be as overt as the incidents at Oberlin, steps must still be taken to alleviate it. Luckily, the framework for improvement is present through the help of groups like Umbrella and faculty.
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