We embarked on a four-hour drive from Cincinnati to Oberlin to visit the historic Oberlin College. Founded in 1833, Oberlin College is recognized as the first American institution of higher education to adopt the policy to admit students of color in 1835, and the first college to award women with a bachelor’s degree in 1841. Today the college offers both the BA degree and a double BA/BM degree.
· Approximately 2,800 enrolled
· Tuition and Fees: $57, 025
· Student Body
o 9% in-state, 85% out-of-state, 8% from abroad
o 54% female, 46% male
o 20% underrepresented students
o Mid-Atlantic: 29%
o Midwest: 23%
o New England: 12%
o Southwest: 4%
o South: 10%
o Far West: 15%
o International: 7%
While there we were able to meet with Professor (Emeritus) Booker Peek, who retired last year after 44 years at Oberlin College. Professor Peek, originally from Jacksonville, Florida received his BA from Florida A&M University in 1964, and MAT from Oberlin College in 1966. While at Oberlin, he was a member of both the Education Department (which dissolved) and African American Studies Department.
In our conversation with him, and two current Oberlin students, we discussed the attitudes surrounding education and racism in the town of Oberlin and across the nation. The common thread throughout the conversation dealt with concept of lack of progress. Professor Peek’s shared that over the years, we have maintained goodwill and righteous ideals, but have lacked in forward progression. We’d like to think that we all have this deep internal desire to improve opportunities, especially for the poor and underrepresented, but just having it is not enough. As many of us know, the betterment of life is not at all a new concept. We have been battling this same issue for years, and yet find ourselves in the same place.
Looking at this idea, the town, and college itself was quite perplexing. Going into this discussion, I had already made the presumption that everything was ideal because of its reputation that proceeded. Because the town has a rich history for abolitionist activities, and the college has had a past of thriving on social justice and progressive causes, I think I subconsciously or maybe even optimistically thought Oberlin as a whole would truly be an “oasis.” After our discussion and looking at the statistics of the college, I am somewhat disheartened to see that the lack forward progression. I had made the presumption that everything was, for lack of better words, a-okay. And maybe they are a few steps ahead of the rest of us, but there is still a long uphill journey. Though I am not giving Oberlin enough credit because they have in fact done amazing things and have overcome many challenges, we can still see that there is no utopia, no one right answer, and no ideal to solve issues surrounding equity.
Since much of what we are learning in this class and on this trip has Christian roots, I thought it would be appropriate to mention the Book of James. A section of this book in the bible discusses that faith without works is dead. Though we all may have different beliefs, this is applicable to all of us as educators. We can believe all we want things will get better--that our one child who is not learning the material will eventually get it, or educational opportunities will one day be fair and beneficial to all, but in all honestly, just thinking it is not enough. If we want change, we must be willing to fight for it. We must be willing to put our words into actions, to walk what we preach. If we expect to see and experience something different, we must start acting and doing differently.