Dealing with Racial Incidents

March 5, 2013    Update below (3/9)

Oberlin College is dealing with a run of racial incidents by person or persons unknown.

On Monday this week, college officials cancelled classes after a person was spotted wearing KKK-style robes near its African Heritage House. Conor Friedersdorf sympathizes with the difficulties of dealing with such issues, but argues, correctly, I think, that cancelling classes was not the right step:

The last step they took, cancelling classes on Monday for a “day of solidarity,” seems mistaken to me: whether the perpetrator is a racist, or a cruel provocateur, or someone carrying out an ill-conceived hoax, this gives them what they sought: on a college campus, where everyone is gathered to advance their education, someone succeeded in disrupting the community’s core function. Like an arsonist who lights a match and watches the show, they’re likely enjoying the spectacle.

A college facing such provocation wants to signal that it is taking such incidents seriously, sand that it will not tolerate them.  The college wants to use the incidents to educate its students, but cancelling classes can look like a triumph for the provocateurs.

Update: Oberlin officials say that “the context” led to the class cancellation, but I don’t find the explanation convincing. There have to be better ways to signal that you view such racial incidents as serious without shutting down the academic program.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Leadership, Responsibility and Ethics, Student Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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