By Owen Henry
While many were busy dancing naked in the ‘Sco on Thursday evening (re: Safer Sex Night), the College’s Board of Trustees met with students in an open forum just one floor above their heads. Board members were in town for one of their four yearly meetings and sought to respond to student questions and concerns. Members in attendance included Thomas F. Cooper, Chelsey Maddox-Dorsey, Kofi Lomotey, Assishana Osho, Patricia Shanks, Susan Troy, and Danette Wineberg. As the event was nominally hosted and moderated by Student Senate, Senators Mandy Hogan, Eliana Golding, Jen Rivera, Meaghan Harty, and Brittany Craig were also in attendance.
Although the trustees expressed an interest in hearing from students about life on campus, the few students in attendance were much more interested in appealing to the trustees for help. The first request was brought by Airman First Class Andrew Lipian, who has the unique distinction of serving as a member of the Ohio National Guard while also studying at Oberlin College. On this particular night, he also had the dubious honor of being the most formally dressed person at a largely informal meeting, as he had chosen to attend in his Air Force uniform. “I had expected this to be a more formal meeting,” said Lipian, “and I prepared some handouts.”
The handouts in question were approximately a dozen images of the military, the aftermath and victims of 9/11, and flag-draped coffins.
“As it may or may not be known,” began Airman Lipian, “roughly two weeks ago it was the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. We erected an interesting conversation on campus around a memorial, which was largely unnoticed by students. Until it was vandalized.”
The memorial consisted of four flags which had been placed on Wilder bowl by the Oberlin Republicans and Libertarians, along with a whiteboard inscribed with a message of remembrance and reverence penned by Lipian himself. The vandalism in question occurred when a pair of intoxicated students took down one of the flags and paraded it around campus. The individuals were eventually caught by S&S, but the damage had already been done. Lipian noted that the flag showed “grass stains,” which clearly indicated it had touched the ground.
“What concerns me,” he said, “is the lack of any coherent attention or response on campus.” Lipian said that he had approached various student groups and campus officials in order to raise awareness of the issue and hopefully prompt official action, but hadn’t had much success. He called the antipathy towards the incident “deplorable” and contrasted it with the immediate and vocal response of the administration to the appearance of racist and homophobic graffiti on the side of Dascomb last year. With no outcry forthcoming, Lipian’s primary purpose at the meeting was to ask the Board to consider pressuring the school to take some type of official action.
However, he also had another concern. “With the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I think Oberlin should [be] looking into having a ROTC training program on campus.” The Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) is a college elective program designed by the U.S. Armed Forces to help interested students develop skills such as leadership as well as ethics. The program was historically mandatory for men’s colleges up until the 1960′s and the protest movement against the War in Vietnam. Since then the ROTC has met strong opposition on liberal campuses such as Oberlin’s for their embrace of the military’s DADT policy. With the removal of this last barrier, said Lipian, he felt it was time to bring the program back, and sought the aid of the Trustees in doing so.
The Trustees present were all sympathetic to his complaints. “I am saddened that an expression of free speech in the community was not respected,” said Linda Troy, who said that she was also more concerned by the vandalism than the lack of a visible reaction of grief or respect on 9/11. “Vandalism is not an appropriate expression of free speech.”
However, the Trustees made it clear that it was not their role to interfere in the administration of the College in this matter. Senator Mandy Hogan also pointed out that Lipian’s request to bring about an ROTC program at Oberlin would be better met through the creation of a student organization while ad hoc-ing for funds through SFC.
Peter Scalch ‘15 was also present to ask why Kahn dormitory had not received solar paneling as outlined in its original plan. Scalch was there to ask his question on behalf of the dorm as a whole, in response to student concerns. Again Hogan was quick to respond, and she pointed out that although said panels had been planned and considered, the College realized that the manufacture and installation of the panels would cost much more energy than it would save. Furthermore, in response to concerns from the Trustees that everything possible should be done to assist Salch and students like him with saving energy, Hogan revealed that ResEd would be implementing a “Green Liaison” position in each dorm cluster. These liaisons would be responsible for helping students save energy.
Emma Klingenstein ’12 also confronted the Trustees on behalf of Active Minds to ask why the mental health professionals at Oberlin College are paid less than the national average. The Board was quick to point out that it is not Oberlin policy to conform to any type of industry standards for salaries, and employees are paid according to what could reasonably be expected in the local area.