December 19, 2014

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Activists speak against Oberlin College no-trespass list

OBERLIN — Inclusion has long been touted as a core value of Oberlin College by its leaders, but a no-trespass list has divided the college and community, list opponents said Wednesday.

Wade

Before about 200 people in a packed room at the Oberlin Public Library, they described a draconian, Kafkaesque college policy lacking checks and balances and a proper, transparent appeals process.

“It is as though I am in the Soviet Union,” said Shane Brandes, who said he was placed on the list two years ago. “Because, A — I don’t know what I was accused of; B — they will never tell me; C — the people that I can go to that I’m supposed to be able (to appeal), I can’t.”

Brandes said Majorie Burton, Oberlin’s director of safety and security, refused to say why he received a letter saying he was banished from the campus indefinitely. Shortly after he visited Oberlin President Marvin Krislov’s office last January to appeal, Brandes said he was arrested and charged with trespassing.

Brandes pleaded not guilty and court records show the case was dismissed, but he said he remains on the list. Brandes, a 1996 Oberlin College graduate, said he later learned he was banned because one person said they were afraid of him.

“This was my alma mater. It is no more,” he said. “It breaks my heart.”

Resident Lewis Wade, 21, said he was in Oberlin visiting a friend in a campus dormitory in 2007 as a teenager when he was detained by campus police and told he was being put on the list. Wade said he was later told he was taken off the list and plays on a rugby team.

However, while attending a basketball game on campus last year, Wade said a campus police officer told him he was on the list. Wade said Burton later told him he was put back on the list in 2010 and would be arrested if he returned to campus. Wade said he hasn’t returned but would like to continue playing rugby.

Wade said he is denied the right to have a formal meeting with the people deciding his appeal and instead must make a written request and hope it is approved.

“That’s not American,” he said. “If you’re going to accuse somebody of something, at least let them meet their accuser.”

Burton said after the meeting that the policy is legal under Ohio’s trespassing laws. Burton said commission of crimes such as assaults or robberies could result in someone being placed on the list, including minors, but people who haven’t broken any laws could also be put on the list if they violated Oberlin College policies.

Burton, an employee since 1987, said she didn’t know when the no-trespass policy began or who started it.

“It’s always been here,” she said.

Burton wouldn’t say how many people are on the list, but said 22 people have appealed in the last two years with 17 appeals granted. Burton said she or Dean of Students Eric Estes have final authority on who is placed on the list and taken off of it.

“When we give a person notice, we also give them notice of what they should do in order to have their situation reviewed,” she said.

Burton said the policy was fair but conceded more transparency may be a “good thing.”

List opponents agreed.

They stressed that they value security and there may be legitimate reasons to place people on the list, but the current policy is overly punitive. Tony Gaines, a 1976 Oberlin graduate and a former Lorain County Sheriff’s Office deputy, said it was wrong to indefinitely ban people, particularly teenagers who make youthful mistakes.

“That makes absolutely no sense,” he said to applause.

Estes’ suggestion of paying an outside consultant to review the process was panned by the audience, who suggested it should be reviewed by a group of community residents and faculty members.

Reshard el-Shair, a 2012 Oberlin graduate and a member of the One Town Campaign, the group that organized the meeting, said his group is attempting to give a voice to those marginalized by the list.

“The One Town Campaign has no interest in creating a community that is unsafe,” he said. “We have every interest in pursuing the honest voices of everyone in the community speaking for change, for freedom and for security.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.