Oberlin: KKK Sighting or Not, Can We Talk About Racism at Colleges?

4 years ago

Oberlin College – the Ohio liberal arts school and alma mater of Lena Dunham – is a bastion of liberalism, right? That perception was shattered Monday, when classes were cancelled after a person wearing Ku Klux Klan robes was spotted on campus near the Afrikan Heritage House. Police were called out the college, where they weren’t able to find any Klansmen, but they did spot a woman walking around wrapped up in a blanket.


So are we all good now?

Not so fast. You see, the reason why the potential KKK spotting was such a big deal is that in the past month, Oberlin College has had numerous incidents of racist and homophobic vandalism, documented on the Tumblr Oberlin Microagressions.

By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oberlin alumna Kendra James writes on Racialicious that while this is the first time someone has reported seeing a person in a KKK hood, more subtly racist events have happened on campus before:

In 2009, a “Mexican Party” was thrown on campus where some attendees dressed as undocumented immigrants (whatever that entails) and drug dealers. During my senior year (‘09-’10), I was asked by a white girl one Saturday (in my own house, of all places) if my afro that day was in honor of the “Pimps and Hoes” party that evening. Both of these parties prompted campus-wide talks, solidarity meetings, discussions with the student senate and a forum or two. In 2011, someone spray painted “n*ggerf*ggot” on a dorm wall, and earlier this year, I saw a few posts on Facebook and Tumblr about someone scrawling “n*gger” on posters (different from the documented incidents above) along with a call to action, but there didn’t seem to be an overwhelming outpouring of student anger or responsiveness from the administration. In the end, incidents like these seemed to always blow over.

Conservative pundits, including Oberlin aluma Michelle Malkin, are having a field day with the KKK spotting, chalking it up to another case of “imaginary racism”. From her blog:

My crazy alma mater is at it again.

Back in the 1990s, race-obsessed nutballs at Oberlin College in Ohio cooked up a horrid hate crime hoax. Asian-American students claimed that a phantom racist had spray-painted anti-Asian racial epithets on a campus landmark rock. Turned out that it was a warped Asian-American student who perpetrated the dirty deed. Whoops. Never mind.

Oberlin College has only about 20% underrepresented minority students. Could the lack of exposure to the experiences of other races lead white students to think it’s okay to mock other cultures or use outright racial slurs? Not to pick on Oberlin specifically, because these "Mexican”, “Asian” and “Pimp and Ho” parties happen on every once in a while on other campuses, too. A few people get outraged, and usually the whole thing blows over as just another case of hipster racism – until the next time.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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