June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

FBI probes Oberlin College’s hate incidents

OBERLIN — The FBI has launched an investigation into a slew of hate incidents at Oberlin College, the college has announced.

“Based on the college’s ongoing conversations with (agents) and the evolution of our investigation, the FBI is initiating an investigation of the bias incidents that have occurred on the campus,” according to a statement posted on the college’s website. “The college will be cooperating closely with the FBI in its investigation.”

The college canceled classes and held a series of solidarity events Monday after student Sunceray Tabler reported spotting a figure in the hood and robe of the Ku Klux Klan near the college’s Afrikan Heritage House early Monday while she was a passenger in a car.

Tabler could not identify the person’s gender, according to a police report, and the driver of the car didn’t see the robed figure.

“Ms. Tabler stated that the person was wearing a white robe that did not look like a coat or normal clothing, and it had long sleeves so that the person’s hands were not visible,” the report said. “In addition, Ms. Tabler advised that the individual had on what looked like a white hat that she described as being pointy and folded toward the back of the person’s head.”

Oberlin police have reported that the college’s security officers were unable to locate anyone in KKK attire, but a female wearing a blanket was found nearby.

Police Lt. Mike McCloskey has said that while investigators haven’t been able to substantiate the initial sighting of someone in KKK garb, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

The sighting came after approximately a month of racial, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs began to appear around campus on fliers or as graffiti. Some college professors also received bigoted fliers in their mailboxes.

McCloskey, who did not respond to requests for comment Friday, has previously said that the college has identified two students as being responsible for the hate speech and that those students are no longer at the college. The case has been forwarded to prosecutors for review.

Scott Wargo, a college spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on the internal investigation, which is ongoing.

FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Friday that her agency can’t confirm whether  it is conducting an investigation.

But she said the FBI is aware of the situation and has been in contact with the college and Oberlin police.

In the meantime, police and the college’s Office of Safety and Security have stepped up patrols around the campus and have posted several notices around campus detailing incidents that have taken place in the aftermath of Monday’s “Day of Solidarity.”

Several students reported that men in a silver Toyota Corolla shouted homophobic statements at them late Monday night while they were walking on campus. Those incidents are also under investigation.

The college’s decision to suspend classes and hold a teach-in, a rally and a convocation designed to address the rash of hate incidents on campus drew international attention and has spawned efforts to address problems on campus, according to college officials and student leaders.

In an open letter to the Oberlin community, posted to both the Oberlin Microaggressions blog and the website for the student newspaper, The Oberlin Review, students of the college’s Africana Community, residents of Afrikan Heritage House and their allies wrote that college officials had initially opposed canceling classes Monday.

Sean Decatur, the college’s dean of arts and sciences, expressed concerns, the open letter said, that canceling classes “would be ‘giving in’ to recent events and would ‘disrupt our commitment to learning.’ ”

The letter said that didn’t sit well with students who noted that the college’s Africana Studies Department had already made the decision to cancel its classes and hold a teach-in.

“Student points brought up included: This is a residential campus, there is a difference between giving in and fighting, we are not asking at this point but demanding, and we cannot simply brush these events over anymore,” the letter said.

The letter said that college President Marvin Krislov and David Stull, dean of the college’s Conservatory of Music, announced at 5:12 a.m. that classes would be canceled. The student body and the college faculty were notified of the cancellation and the day’s events in emails sent out just before 8 a.m.

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


About Brad Dicken

Brad Dicken is the senior writer for the Chronicle-Telegram. He covers courts and county government, and has been with the Chronicle since 2001. He can be reached at 329-7147 or BDicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter.