A couple of weeks ago, a cohort of creative, passionate, and bright high school seniors from all over the world opened emails from the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid notifying them that they had been accepted into Oberlin’s class of 2025. As a senior year defined by COVID-19 draws to a close, these students must decide what institution they want to call home for the next four years. We remember what this moment was like for us — weighing an ever-expanding list of pros and cons for a new life is deeply stressful, and certainly not made easier with a pandemic.
As student journalists, we know that Oberlin is not perfect; a testament to that fact is decades of articles documenting controversies and institutional missteps that have been published in this paper. As an Editorial Board, we have been critical of various administrative decisions and aspects of student culture on campus. But we also love our school.
Every day in our lives as students, and in our work with the Review, we engage with a host of microcosms in this community, each more excited than the last to tell you about their student organization or academic passion. And in our interviews with students, faculty, and staff we see an Oberlin that glows with enthusiasm and innovation. So from the perspective of your friendly student journalists, without colorful admissions flyers or sugar-coated soliloquies, here is our pitch for Oberlin.
The fact is, we live in an age of racial inequities, gender imbalances, and workplaces designed around a culture of exploitation. As students at Oberlin, we’re not only a part of conversations on how to change the status quo but are actively involved in enacting measures that genuinely make a difference.
Last summer, President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced a Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity, and leading this mission is a group of people tasked with creating spaces and programming to center otherwise marginalized voices in our community. Student Senate has led the charge in its own right, in part through co-hosting events such as Black Renaissance: A Celebration of Black Artistry. The event arose out of a moment of controversy, when the Oberlin Conservatory published a flyer for a Black History Month faculty recital — titled “A Celebration of Black Artistry” — that featured an entirely white ensemble. In response to the Conservatory’s blunder and its lackluster apology, students organized their own celebration. In the midst of COVID, a student-organized event safely brought together over a hundred spectators to support their peers in sharing music, dance, and poetry. This day of performances marked one of the best moments of togetherness the campus has had all year. Every performer was met with an outpouring of claps, snaps, and cheers. On stage, Obies shared their anger, their heartbreaks, and their joy. This is the Oberlin that we cherish.
We also want to talk about our school’s structural challenges. For some years now the College — like many institutions in higher education — has been dealing with a budget deficit, and Oberlin’s response has been to face it head-on. In 2019 the College launched a year-long Academic and Administrative Program Review which resulted in a host of recommendations, not just to cut costs, but also to boost our academic and extracurricular offerings as well as student life. As an Editorial Board, we have often strongly disagreed with the College’s budget-balancing measures, and we stand by those criticisms. However, the upcoming phase of One Oberlin’s strategic planning that seeks to build the College up in new ways promises exciting changes.
We have already seen some big shifts. Among the One Oberlin recommendations was the recommendation to strengthen Oberlin’s career development. While Oberlin has always done a good job of preparing students for graduate school and academic fellowships, the College was previously lacking in how it prepared students for other work environments. This year, the Career Development Center has created a number of programs to give students practical experience and advice in advocating for their own careers, including the Junior and Sophomore Practicums and the Senior Launch Program. Crucially, too, Oberlin has integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion training into its career development, a move that is both critical and overlooked by almost every institution.
Beyond that, you’re probably wondering about Oberlin’s academics and faculty. Oberlin truly does shine in its academic mentorship and as students we love our classes. Oberlin’s academics stand out in the collective desire to grow with the needs of students in a changing world. After data suggested that prospective and current students were interested in studying business as well as global health, Oberlin started work on creating two new concentrations in these fields. Very near and dear to our hearts is the new journalism concentration, which blends both academic requirements and real-world experience.
On the ground, the College is engaged in some incredible work. Of course, nothing we do is perfect, and some fairly public mistakes have been made along the way. Here we want to highlight two things: First, making mistakes in the process of trying something new is inevitable. The real test is in our ability to learn and then rectify our mistakes, which, to some extent, we’ve been able to do. The second thing is a testament to our student body: At every step of Oberlin’s journey to change how we understand higher education, Obies have not hesitated to criticize or congratulate decisions made by administrators, have been effectively vocal in asking for help and offering support, and have never hesitated to represent what they stand for. Obies embody an unwavering courage to be different and not settle for anything less than a communal best effort.
Oberlin’s comprehensive approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 has kept our campus community safe this past year and is a testament to this school’s greatest strength. The College instituted widespread testing and other measures that resulted in extremely low positivity rates — there have only been 11 cases on campus this semester. This would not have been possible without the dedication of not only College leadership but all of the faculty, staff, and students who come to campus. The people here care about this community and keeping one another safe.
A quick scroll through the Review’s homepage tells the same story, with every critical op-ed that was written by a student showing they care enough about this place to want to make a difference and each story in the Arts & Culture section highlighting something vibrant in our community. As the weeks go by, we as an Editorial Board are continually excited by the work of our peers. The “Think one person can change the world?” tagline is cheesy, but it points to something real: Oberlin is a great place for people who are always striving for something better, who envision a world of creative and ambitious solutions, who are never quite satisfied. If that sounds like you, you should come to our — admittedly flawed — but deeply wonderful school.
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