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Racial episodes shake Ohio's Oberlin College

Racial episodes shake Ohio's Oberlin College

March 6th, 2013 in News

Tom Weston, lay leader at the First United Methodist Church, talks about the recent racial incidents Tuesday that occurred at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Oberlin College says it canceled classes after a report that a person wearing a hooded robe resembling Ku Klux Klan gear was seen near an African heritage building. It calls it the latest in a series of hate-related incidents on campus. Racist graffiti were reported on campus last month.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

OBERLIN, Ohio (AP) - Scrawls of racially offensive graffiti and, more recently, a report of someone wearing what looked like a Ku Klux Klan-type hooded robe on campus have shaken students at historically liberal Oberlin College, one of the nation's first universities to admit blacks.

Two students are being investigated for possible involvement in the graffiti and are facing discipline by the college, but no criminal charges have been filed, said Oberlin city Police Chief Thomas Miller. It wasn't clear, he said, whether the culprits were pranksters or genuinely motivated by bigotry.

The college canceled Monday's classes after an early morning report of someone in a white, hooded robe. Investigators were trying to determine whether the sighting was reliable or related to a separate sighting of a person wrapped in a blanket.

Classes resumed Tuesday, though the atmosphere was still tense. The police department has stepped up patrols around the campus at the request of the college.

"I just really feel uncomfortable walking alone anywhere," Modjeska Pleasant, 19, a first-year student from Savannah, Ga., said Tuesday.

Pleasant, who is black, said she became upset after hearing a few white students suggest the racist graffiti first found a month ago and anti-Semitic and racist fliers and other messages left around campus since then were just a prank to get out of classes.

In an open letter, President Marvin Krislov and three deans told the campus they hoped the ordeal would lead to a stronger Oberlin. Students and professors gathered Monday afternoon to talk about mutual respect.

Hate-filled graffiti and racially charged displays are not unusual on college campuses. But what makes these episodes so shocking is that they happened at a place tied closely with educating and empowering blacks.

Oberlin began admitting blacks nearly 180 years ago. Among its graduates are one of the first blacks elected to public office and the first black lawyer allowed to practice in New York state. The city itself was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The college, with nearly 3,000 students, remains a liberal oasis in the middle of northern Ohio, surrounded by conservative farming towns and rust belt cities. Cleveland is about 30 miles away.

The incidents began the first week of February, according to a police report that detailed the defacement of Black History Month posters with the N-word, a "whites only" sign written above a water fountain, a swastika drawn on a science center window and a student knocked to the ground by a person making a derogatory comment about ethnicity.