The cancellation of classes at Oberlin College on Monday in response to a wave of bias crimes was the biggest higher education story in the nation this week. And according to an account written by Oberlin students of color for the campus newspaper we all got the story completely wrong.
In their public statements, Oberlin administrators described the decision to cancel classes and hold a campus-wide series of teach-ins and rallies as their own. But a student timeline of the events of Sunday night and Monday morning portrays it as a plan that “was advocated for and organized by students,” one that administrators initially refused to accept.
Students got top Oberlin administrators out of bed in the middle of the night to present their demands, they say, and it wasn’t until they began organizing to shut down the campus that the administration gave in.
The timeline, written by “students of the Africana community” and posted on the website of the Oberlin Review student newspaper late this week, was based on “time-stamped text messages and status updates as well as minutes from the emergency meeting” late Sunday night.
According to the timeline, a resident of Oberlin’s Afrikan Heritage House saw an unidentified individual walking on campus “in what appears to be traditional Ku Klux Klan regalia” shortly before 1:15 Monday morning and contacted their RA. Within a few minutes residence officials, campus security, and Oberlin Dean of Students Eric Estes had been notified.
At approximately 1:30 am RAs in the Afrikan Heritage House woke the house’s residents for a house meeting to discuss the incident. Estes arrived at the Afrikan Heritage House at 1:40 am. Students from outside Afrikan Heritage House were called over the next while, and the group continued to meet with campus officials and police.
At 2:49 am, Oberlin president Marvin Krislov arrived at the meeting.
Sometime after 3 am students asked President Krislov to cancel classes for Monday, and he refused, saying that all of the college’s deans would have to agree, and that it would not be possible to contact them at that time of the night.
At 3:40 am Meredith Gadsby, the chair of the Oberlin Africana Studies Department, told the students assembled in the Afrikan Heritage House that her department would cancel its classes for the day and would work to organize a noon teach-in.
Between four and five o’clock, as administrators continued to dismiss the idea of a full cancellation of classes, students developed a plan to blockade the campus at the start of the day.
Two excerpts from the timeline describe what happened next:
4:44 a.m. Plans for a Rally and Blockade solidify and working groups form. One working group maps out the exits of academic buildings such as King and the Science Center for the Blockade. Another working group compiles a letter to faculty members asking them to cancel classes in solidarity with students. An additional working group creates signs and flyers for the blockade and another working group organizes the rally to take place at 2 p.m. During the planning, a student requests that Marjorie Burton leave to allow the students to plan.
5:12 a.m. President Krislov, Dean Estes and Dean Stull state that classes will be canceled.
Update | A friend forwards a link to a Wednesday blogpost by Oberlin Vice President for Communications Ben Jones, in which Jones writes that “the genesis of Monday’s program was largely the work of students and I take full responsibility for any college communications that misrepresented this.”