August 22, 2014

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Report of KKK cancels Oberlin College classes, sparks solidarity events

OBERLIN — Oberlin College’s “Day of Solidarity” on Monday was sparked by a student who reported seeing a person wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe near the college’s Afrikan Heritage House while driving through campus between 1 and 2 a.m.

College security officers responded to the area, but weren’t able to find a person wearing the infamous KKK garb.

Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said that authorities did find a pedestrian wrapped in a blanket. He said police interviewed another witness later in the day and that person also saw a female walking with a blanket.

He said Oberlin police were contacted by campus security and interviewed the student who reported seeing the KKK outfit.

McCloskey said police haven’t been able to substantiate the initial report, although that doesn’t mean it was wrong.

Scott Wargo, a college spokesman, and Sean Decatur, the college’s dean of arts and sciences, both said they were unaware of the person wearing the blanket.

Student leaders were informed of the incident around 2 a.m. and met with college officials in the following hours to decide what actions to take, students and faculty said Monday.

“This event, in addition to the series of other hate-related incidents on campus, has precipitated our decision to suspend formal classes and all non-essential activities … and gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks,” Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, Decatur and two other college deans wrote in a statement sent to students at 7:56 a.m. Monday.

A string of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs, and derogatory fliers, graffiti and posters have plagued the college campus in recent weeks, according to the college, students and police.

According to an Oberlin police report, the hate speech first came to the attention of the college’s Office of Safety and Security on Feb. 5 when a student reported finding a posting on her door that referred her to a website where she found several offensive posts about her.

On Feb. 13, the same student reported that she found a flier on her door that stated, “CELEBRATE (expletive) HISTORY MUNF! RAPE A WHITE WOMAN!”

On Feb. 9, students reported finding anti-Semitic fliers in college buildings, including one that stated “Third Reich Lives On!” That same day, the report said, a swastika was found drawn in black ink on a door and another student reported finding a flier advertising racist websites.

On Feb. 10, a gay poster was defaced with a homophobic slur and the next day several fliers attacking Black History Month using racial slurs appeared on campus, including one targeting Martin Luther King Jr., according to police.

A racist and homophobic flier was found on a table inside the Multicultural Resource Center on Feb. 12. That same day, several racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic letters were placed in mailboxes outside the offices of professors in the English, History and Rhetoric/Composition departments in Rice Hall, police said.

One flier suggested burning a cross and another suggested blacks should be kept in cages.

Other hate-filled fliers appeared over the following days, including a handmade poster of a Nazi flag that was taped inside the windows of the second-floor crosswalk of the Science Center, police reported.

Racist slurs were found written throughout Burton Hall on Feb. 16, including on an elevator door, outside a bathroom and on a flier seeking volunteers for a program in Kenya, the report said. The words “WHITES ONLY” with an arrow pointing down were written above a water fountain as well.

McCloskey said that police and the college believe they have identified two students as being responsible for the slurs, but neither has been charged with a crime. Oberlin City Prosecutor Michelle Nedwick said Monday she has not yet reviewed the file that McCloskey said has been forwarded to her.

McCloskey also said federal authorities have been contacted about the case and his understanding is that the two students are no longer at the college.

Wargo and Decatur both said they were unfamiliar with students being disciplined in the matter. During a convocation Monday, Krislov said he could not discuss disciplinary matters.

Krislov himself was the target of a racially charged Twitter account posting under the name “Adolf Krislov” with a photo of the college president’s face. The site posted a string of tweets attacking blacks, gays and the college’s liberal reputation.

The poster denied involvement in the recent spate of hate speech on the campus.

“BTW I have nothing to do with the recent hate-messages and things of that nature. We share most all values,” the Adolf Krislov poster wrote on Feb. 12.

The “Adolf Krislov” Twitter page claimed to be that of the “Supreme Leader and Reichsfuhrer-SS of Nazi Oberlin.”

Both McCloskey and Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said they were unaware of any Oberlin-based hate groups.

“Oberlin College is certainly not a hotbed of hate,” Potok said.

But he also said that according to the FBI, 9.3 percent of all hate crimes in the United States take place at schools and college campuses. He said that puts school grounds behind only residential areas, at 32 percent, and public roadways, at 18 percent, for their rate of hate crime incidents.

Potok also praised Oberlin College’s handling of the hate speech, which he said most schools view as a public relations problem that impacts recruitment and alumni relations. Oberlin has confronted the issue and used it as a way to open a dialogue, he said.

“The typical response of colleges is fear,” Potok said. “It’s a real attempt to hide what’s happening.”

Monday’s anti-hate events come as the One Town Campaign pushes to reform the college’s no trespass list, which the college has refused to make public and critics contend is unjust.

This also isn’t the first time that the college has had to contend with racially motivated hate speech. A series of slurs and derogatory comments also appeared on campus in 2011.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.