How Oberlin Played the Race Card and Lost

Are Oberlin College officials serious when they say they were defending students’ free speech? That remains the college’s defense even after a jury found the college guilty of libel and interference with business in its dealings with Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery.

Gibson’s Bakery felt defamed by Oberlin College’s involvement in a campaign accusing the bakery of racism. As everyone who pays attention to American higher education now knows, the civil case went to trial. On June 7, the jury awarded Gibson’s Bakery $11 million in compensatory damages. Several days later it granted the plaintiffs an additional $33 million as a punitive award. The judge quickly denied the College’s request that he declare a mistrial.

The Basics

The case stems from an act of shoplifting. On November 9, 2016, immediately after the election of President Trump, an Oberlin student, Jonathan Aladin, attempted to shoplift several bottles of wine from Gibson’s. Allyn D. Gibson, the grandson of the store’s owner, was clerking. He noticed the attempted theft and ran after Aladin. An altercation ensued across the street which ended with Aladin and two companions, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence, beating Gibson as he lay on the ground.

Police arrived and arrested the three assailants, all of whom pled guilty to various charges—Aladin to robbery and the other two to first-degree misdemeanor assault.

But immediately after the incident, word spread through the Oberlin College student community that Aladin, who is black, had been racially profiled. This soon escalated into a claim that the bakery had a history of racial profiling and disparate treatment of blacks. A campaign suddenly emerged accusing the bakery of racism. Protesters assembled outside the bakery and in some cases entered the bakery and harassed customers. The campaign escalated still further into a demand that Oberlin College ceases buying food from the bakery through one of the College’s contractors. The College complied with the demand.

[The $44 Million Verdict Against Oberlin]

Gibson’s Bakery, which has served the community since 1885, immediately suffered severe financial losses. When the Gibson family complained to Oberlin College about the treatment, it was brusquely turned away. The bakery filed suit and plainly prevailed.

Beyond the Basics

The suit would have amounted to very little if, in fact, Gibson’s Bakery had indeed engaged in racial profiling or any other form of racism. Those claims, however, were demonstrably false. Gibson’s Bakery in recent years had been victimized by a great deal of shoplifting, mostly by Oberlin students. We know this because police records show 40 instances of shoplifting in which the perpetrators were arrested from 2011 through 2016. More than four out of five of those arrested (82.5 percent) were Oberlin students. Thirty-two of those arrested (80 percent) were white, six were black, and two were Asian.

The College fought (unsuccessfully) to exclude this information from the trial. Plainly, Gibson’s Bakery had a problem with Oberlin students shoplifting, but it was a problem that had nothing to do with race. Students at Oberlin generally understood the situation. The student newspaper, the Oberlin Grape, reported in a December 2017 article about Oberlin College’s student “Culture of Theft.” The article reports the insouciance of students towards pilfering local businesses. As one student put it, describing her multiple thefts from Gibson’s: “It wasn’t expensive, and I felt like it…I just preferred not paying for it, but I could have.”

Stealing from local businesses is, in the eyes of many Oberlin students, a quasi-right or privilege. They don’t feel guilty about it. They feel cool, or to put in today’s language, entitled.

They also feel uninhibited about making up stories and flinging accusations without any need for evidence or any sense of simple fairness. How widely are attitudes like this spread among Oberlin’s 2,800-some students? Plainly there is no way of knowing. But perhaps it is a factor employers should consider when an Oberlin graduate applies for a job. Honesty isn’t high on the list of values that Oberlin cultivates in its students

Back to the Story

Oberlin College’s explanation throughout the Gibson affair was that it was simply assisting Oberlin students in their rightful exercise of free speech. Following the verdict, Oberlin doubled down with an email to the whole college community reiterating its position:

Neither Oberlin College nor Dean Meredith Raimondo defamed a local business or its owners, and they never endorsed statements made by others. Rather, the College and Dr. Raimondo worked to ensure that students’ freedom of speech was protected and that the student demonstrations were safe and lawful, and they attempted to help the plaintiffs repair any harm caused by the student protests.

[How Nine Universities Pander to Campus Radicals]

It is hard to respond to this in any way other than with a hearty guffaw. Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo helped to organize the student protesters, orchestrated the protest, handed out the same flyers that the protesters distributed, contributed logistical help to the protesters, attempted to silence Gibson’s complaints, and responded vituperatively to those at Oberlin who objected to the College’s involvement in the anti-Gibson campaign. She stands out as Oberlin’s prime mover in the effort to demonize Gibson’s bakery as “racist.”

But she was far from alone. Oberlin’s attack on Gibson’s was fed by its former president, Marvin Krislov, by the director of its Multicultural Resource Center, Toni Myers, and by its vice president for communications, Ben Jones, among others. Jones added this lovely rejoinder to the College’s critics: “F***-em … they’ve made their own bed now.”

The key question is: Why stick with a story that has been so discredited?

Racism

The answer is that people such as former President Krislov and Dean Raimondo have nowhere else to go. They have defined themselves and their college by a commitment to a narrow set of progressive imperatives. Among these are the propositions that America is a racist nation; that the pursuit of “social justice” overrides petty concerns about specific details or mere factual accuracy; that expression of “opinion” is self-justifying; and that the progressively enlightened few need to maintain solidarity against the unenlightened many. Oberlin College is right to disdain Gibson’s Bakery and the rest of the ignorant and foolish people who have not yet recognized the deep insights into humanity embodied in Oberlin’s revealed truths.

In that sense, you can’t understand the Gibson’s Bakery story without understanding Oberlin College’s deeper and deeper descent into a kind of collective madness that overtook the college during Marvin Krislov’s decade as president, 2007-2017. Krislov himself—now president of Pace University—is a tell-tale figure. He is a lawyer who led the defense of the University of Michigan’s racial preferences in the Supreme Court case of Gratz v. Bollinger and had a well-established reputation before he was appointed Oberlin’s president as a fierce defender of affirmative action. Encouraging a spirit of racial grievance was close to the center of his life. And so it happened that Oberlin embarked on a decade of discovering racial grievances pretty much out of thin air.

In 2013, a student discerned a Ku Klux Klan member strolling the campus at night. It turned out to be an undergraduate hugging herself against the chill with a blanket. A racist graffiti campaign turned out to be the work of two progressive students engaged in a little Jessie Smollett. They were apprehended by the campus police, but Krislov hid that from the students to create a “teachable moment.” In 2015, Oberlin students made themselves a laughingstock by complaining that Asian food should be banned from their cafeterias because of “culinary cultural appropriation.” Dig into the student newspaper for more appetizing details of Oberlindia.

When a college administration signals that its highest values are taking umbrage at the unenlightened opinions of others and discovering racial animus lurking behind the most innocent-seeming circumstances of everyday life, it is a safe bet that students will get on board. Umbrage and suspicion will expand to fill the void left by the absence of serious educational purpose.

Wanton

One might think that Oberlin’s board of trustees, if not its key administrators, would add up $11 million and $33 million and reach the sum that Oberlin has made some significant mistakes. But no, that’s not where this seems to be going. Oberlin’s new president, Carmen Twillie Ambar, could have laid the matter at her predecessor’s doorstep. She didn’t incite the protests or defame Gibson’s Bakery. But in the aftermath of the jury’s decision, President Ambar wrote to the Oberlin community expressing disappointment “in the jury’s decisions and the fragmentary and sometimes distorted public discussion of this case.” Ambar declared, “I want to assure you that none of this will sway us from our core values. It will not distract, deter, or materially harm our educational mission, for today’s students or for generations to come.”

If the “educational mission” in question is the same one that fostered a “culture of theft” and a hair-trigger willingness to launch a protest based on unsubstantiated (and false) rumor, Ambar’s reassurances are a sad testimony to how poorly Oberlin College has understood the jury’s message. Calling innocent people “racist” is not a form of free speech that a college should encourage and endorse. Joining a self-righteous mob bent on destroying a legitimate business is never a good idea, and doing so in the spirit of ratifying students’ arrogant assumptions of superiority is even worse.

We all know the case isn’t over. Oberlin College will file appeal after appeal. The financial judgment will eventually be reduced. Oberlin apparently will do all that it can to cement the public impression that it is a wildly irresponsible place that should never be entrusted with the character formation of college students.

One might think that Oberlin College would have at least embraced this simple rule: Don’t steal. Oberlin, however, came up with a different lesson. They wanted Gibson’s Bakery to adopt a different simple rule: Don’t report our students to the police. Just tell us. We’ll handle it. Gibson’s Bakery properly refused this deal. America should properly refuse it too. Oberlin must be held accountable for its wanton attack on Gibson’s Bakery and its no less wanton complicity in the corruption of its students.

Peter Wood

Peter Wood

Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “Diversity: the Invention of a Concept.”

25 thoughts on “How Oberlin Played the Race Card and Lost

  1. Free speech, as in free to hate speech. Free to warp the truth speech. Free to claim entitlement to an existence above and beyond the law.
    That the student who stole, and the students who beat up the business proprietor have morphed into “victims” (of…..THEIR victim?). You can’t make this stuff up. Pity.

    And so goes this pulpwood of misery formerly known as education and which has now become the stuff that is beginning to resemble the smoke and mirrors that encouraged good citizens to murder “bad” citizens…..history weeps while we are incapable.

  2. Shame on us, if we’re surprised by any of this.
    Or perhaps, like Capt. Renault we can play-pretend we’re “Shocked! Shocked!” that idiocy reigns supreme on the American College Campus.

    Oberlin stews in its own corruption. It has for decades. Like most (not quite all) small, liberal arts colleges, it has been sliding down this slippery & solipsistic slope pretty much forever.

    What began more simply as the Liberal Left back in the 50’s and early 60’s, radicalized in the era of Vietnam, Sex, Drugs, and Rock&Roll, Oberlin became a ‘happening thing’ of faculty, staff, and students who wore their hair long, smoked dope, did the ‘Johnny Strabler Whattya Got’ Protest shimmy, and continually devolved the increasingly low-ball curriculum: killing Gen Eds, eviscerating Classics, building Identity Studies, all while vigorously enhancing self-esteem and collecting tuition checks.

    Tiredly predictable in their pro-forma iconoclasm, what had been a fine & rigorous educational institution collapsed into yet another Progressive Circlejerk of an Echo Chamber. There at Oberlin they all pray to the 4-Headed God, Diversity-Inclusion-Equality-and Social Justice and disdain those who don’t. Can I get an Amen (and some tar & pitchforks to go with it)?

    Truth, Right, and Reason — they’re old-school, obsolete, symptoms of the Oppression — forget ’em.

    Though half-a-century has gone by since Gracie Slick first captured the Oberlinesque Party Line, it still rings true today:
    We are all outlaws in the eyes of America
    In order to survive
    We steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal
    We are obscene, lawless, hideous, dangerous, dirty, violent, and young
    We should be together
    We are forces of chaos and anarchy
    Everything they say we are, we are
    And we are very
    Proud of ourselves
    ***
    Tear down the wall

    Or — in the case of little Oberlin: go shoplift Gibson’s….same difference.
    And then lie about it. And then lie some more. And then try to ‘tear down’ the town’s 100 yr. old bakery in strike-a-pose, self-righteous glee.

    After all, they’re not students….they’re two-dimensional “Wild Ones”: “Nobody tells me what to do. You keep needlin’ me, if I want to, I’m gonna take this joint apart and you’re not gonna know what hit you. ” And so they did.

    And now the $44M bill sits in the lap of the Trustees.
    Let’s get this party started.

  3. There’s a distinct lack of common sense among college administrators today, and there’s no accountability even after costing their institutions millions. This is akin to the code of silence that envelopes many police forces to protect the few who transgress.

  4. My daughter entered Oberlin in 1989 and graduated in 1993. As it was then, It was an excellent college for her. I wonder what percentage of present-day students like the current political climate. The crowd in front of Gibson’s was estimated at two hundred. That’s less than ten percent. I suspect life is uncomfortable for those who are genuinely interested in their studies. I feel sorry for them

  5. The events – and attitudes at Oberlin, are a clear depiction of the leftist cancer that has metastasized throughout Western academia.

  6. I think changes are needed in the Admissions Office — although Ambar gives no hope that their policies will change. A college practicing holistic admissions as Oberlin does (they currently reject 2/3 of their applicants and used to be even more selective) can make character an important part of admission.

    But which sort of character do they want? It seems that Oberlin is looking for grievance-activists. A student body of 4-H prize winners, Boy Scouts and nerds, as well as the serious musicians over in the conservatory, could not be brought to this sort of pitch.

      1. Don’t be absurd. There is no “white” race, only the one human race, all being melanin brown. RaceS plural is a depraved fiction by depraved Darwin’s groundless evolutionism religion masquerading as science, like its likewise deranged offspring “global warming.”

  7. “In 2013, a student discerned a Ku Klux Klan member strolling the campus at night. It turned out to be an undergraduate hugging herself against the chill with a blanket. ”
    Another one – probably another college – a student called campus police to report a “KKK member” – it turned out to be a Franciscan priest.

  8. Having two brothers graduate from Oberlin during the Viet Nam era, I saw a completely different mindset from the Oberlin of today. I worked at the college library until a few years ago and watched as the student mentality declined to the point I coul no longer tolerate it. Self-absorbed, entitled children graduated with little idea of life and barely prepared for the real world. One of my student workers actually had to attend our local community college in order to take courses to qualify for grad school. But she had a diploma from Oberlin. Students come and go, but Gibsons have been here for a long time. How dare Oberlin College bully them.

  9. Anyone who would allow their college-age student to attend Oberlin is certifiable. I simply can’t imagine paying anything, much less the hefty prices Oberlin charges, to have one’s offspring exposed to all the improper, incorrect and dishonest things they support. Indeed, I’d pay heavily to avoid that! Hopefully this place will quickly follow Antioch into bankruptcy and dissolution.

  10. This is a very sad commentary on our college culture, but like it or not, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Colleges seem to be gravitating to social issues rather than academic issues in order to help enrollment problems. Unfortunately, some of the state institutions are also involved and doing it with state supported dollars. Corruption is the new norm that has been exposed, but it was always there. I am a retired school superintendent and published a book, School Corruption: Betrayal of Children and the Public Trust that details the daily, yes “daily,” corruption that takes place in our publicly supported educational system but goes unrecognized and this is not a wild statement but one also supported by a UN report that studied corruption globally and came to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, the public does not want to believe it happens in education and that is part of the problem. To but it bluntly, our educational system, top to bottom, is corrupt by definition, it is a problem that is easily solved and doesn’t require any money to do it. But it is even worse than people believe because there is also the School to Prison Pipeline that is ignored by the educational community and worse, law enforcement. At the heart of this problem is that up to 80% of inmates are high school dropouts. In other words, up to 80% of crime is caused by high school dropouts. Even after they serve their sentences, within 5 years up to 80% return to their prison cells because their basic problem of reading deficiencies has not been solve by their rehab programs. This problem can be solved very quickly with inexpensive strategies that would also cut crime rates (meaning that less law enforcement jobs would be needed and that is why it ignores the problem–prevention is cheaper than incarceration but it means less jobs). Fixing the educational problems would also cost jobs because the system is maintained for the benefit of the adults rather than the students. Furthermore, it is full of lies (two former U.S. Education Secretaries stated this). A prime example is that the dropouts are caused by poverty, racisim, etc. which are issues, but not causes. The dropouts occur because they are lacking basic reading skills without which, it is almost impossible to succeed academically. When you cant read, you cannot learn, and when you cannot learn, you feel stupid and embarrassed in front of your classmates and you want out of this culture of failure. Most of these dropouts come from failing schools which reforms have not been effective in fixing. But the education system does not want to take responsibility for the reading wars that continue to the present day and it is easier to blame social issues that have not been solved for generations. Incidentally, these same social issues also pertain to female minorities, but they are at least two grades ahead of the boys that come from the same cultures and families. We tend to blame lack of teachers of color for part of the problem, yet in New Orleans where they had 72% teachers of color yet it was the worse school system in the U.S., Thanks to Katrina, it wiped out the union dominated system and the legislatirs voted to make all the school charter schools where these same social factors continue, but the students are thriving academically.
    Yes, it is a sordid story of educational malpractice at all levels (this is part of the definition of corruption, but it is not illegal–repeat–not illegal, but it is corruption.
    Leadership is needed to change the situation, but so far it does not exist. I have enough new corruption tales to tell to write a sequel to my book, but I know it wont make any difference. I have over 40 years of experience in education at all levels where there are many wonderful and dedicated teachers and administrators who, unfortunately, are more concerned about their image than their actual corrupt practices. Minoriity boys are the sacrificial lambs held in the bondage of failing, schools (their ancestors were held in the bondage of plantations that are now replaced by schools) and then they are harvested by the prison plantations. Shamefully, but true and it will continue because it is hard to accept. A similar story is that of the church sex scandals that went on for centuries because it was more concerned about its image while it continue to support moral degradation of its practitioners and it still hard for many worshipers to accept. Who wants to believe that the wonderful teacher your child has could be part of any corrupt system? Not many and that is why it continues every single day. When I was challenged by my colleagues by claiming it goes on daily in every system, I offered to do an audit of any 3 school systems of their choice and I would prove it, but they declined to accept my challenge. Incidentally, for doubters, I would refer to what happened on Long Island where a $11 million embezzlement took place in a small community where the superintendent (the highers paid on LI) and five others were involved. When the State Auditor then audited the other 70 districts, corruption was found in every one. Enough said because thus far my discourse has produced no results.

    1. Dr. Armand A. Fusco
      Corruption that sounds like IL Cook County’s so-called “judiciary” where back in the day the federal “Greylord” investigation found that since ALL the judges were on the take all they could do was close the investigation.
      But what’s ignored in all this is how this is a realization of what America’s vastly more educated and wiser Founders sternly warned us: attempting to to have a nation without God and His Word as foundational was certain national suicide, as it’s proven to be. There’s a direct connection between the study of the Bible that brought us literacy and it’s effective and actual banning that’s obviously caused its loss, admitted or not. See this ably illustrated by C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy in the last volume’s curse of Babel. “Qui Verbum Dei contempserunt, ei, eis auferetur etiam verbum hominis.”
      They that have despised the word of God, from them shall the word of man also be taken away.
      God save us, for only he can.

  11. Strange no one has mentioned the connection with corrupt Oberlin’s likewise corrupt apostate “minister” Charles Grandison Finney whom many ignorant Christians foolishly adore, utterly unaware of how contrary to the Christian faith his arrogant views really were.
    Like the college his views were very emotional and appealed to the Bible supposedly to support his views, but those who actually KNOW the Bible are painfully aware of how far short they fell. See his perfidy exposed at
    http://www.romans45.org/articles/finney.htm
    http://www.romans45.org/bookmark/realbad.htm
    Small wonder that a college associated with him would be likewise deceitful.

  12. So Krislov was a champion of a state that checked the skin color of its citizens, and if the skin color was black, then held those black-skinned citizens to a different standard, a lower standard, in state hiring, state contracting and state university admissions.

    I would say Krislov was a champion of racism, indeed, some of the worst kind of racism, state-sponsored racism. Krislov is a racist.

  13. These “supposed champions” of “free speech” are also the purveyors and defenders of the concept of “hate speech”. It would be hard for an intellectually honest person to discern why speech accusing someone of “racism” where that allegation is palpably false and easily proven to be so is not “hate speech” under their definition. The hypocrisy is evident and exposes that this effort is not about “speech” at all. Defamation has always been a limitation of speech. And so, there you have it. And defamation is objectively provable based on its known falsity whereas “hate” speech is entirely subjective with the hearer. One is provable based on a provable animus, the other is a manner of moving totalitarianism forward. And so, these defenders of “free speech” at Oberlin are training totalitarians for the very selfish private purpose that each one of these idiots is worth about $340,000 to the college over their 4 year stint. And so, the brand and business model requires that the children run the kindergarten. And in order to sleep at night, you convince yourselves (Oberlin Admin) that you are serving that higher purpose when in reality you are not.

  14. You neglected to mention that the town and the college were founded according to the principles, and as a namesake of, a Strasbourg minister who advocated universal education and uplift of the poor through communities making their own improvements. That is why the college was co-ed in classes from the beginning, even when women could not earn degrees for a few years, and that’s why black people could attend from almost the beginning. That is why the town and college were important stops on the Underground Railroad, as well as an important intellectual center for abolition and learning to let black people live like anyone else.

    Nobody ever moved to Oberlin with the intent of being a racist. The college’s baseless accusations were a deep insult to the whole town’s history and its namesake, as well as to the Gibsons.

  15. I guess Oberlin students who get caught cheating can simply claim to have been ‘actually’ running a cheating detection audit. The administration clearly endorses post hoc excuse making.

  16. Elegantly and incisively argued. Do you think Oberlin will listen? The sad truth is that people who abjure reason cannot and will not be reasoned with.

  17. In addition to all of the above, it needs to be noted that it was an underaged student in possession of alcohol, in a college town — where the liquor inspectors love to hang out.

    If Gibson’s hadn’t done something about the theft, they’d likely be facing large fines and possible loss of their liquor license — which well might put them out of business. It should be noted that the student first attempted to buy it, was denied the sale because he was underage, at which point he then stole it.

    So it’s not just the value of the stolen item(s) but the legal consequences of having “permitted” him to steal it — Gibson’s was in an impossible situation as they had to prosecute lest they be prosecuted themselves.

    Personally, I think that the 21-year-old drinking age is asinine — it has caused far more problems in academia than a lot of people realize, and this is one.

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