OBERLIN, Ohio — 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.
A day after the school canceled classes and students marched on campus, many remained worried about their safety.
“I just really feel uncomfortable walking alone anywhere,” Modjeska Pleasant, 19, a first-year student from Savannah, Ga., said Tuesday.
She said she became upset after hearing a few white students suggest that the racist graffiti first found a month ago and anti-Semitic and racist messages on campus since then were just a prank to get out of classes.
The college canceled Monday’s classes after the early morning sighting of the hooded robe.
President Marvin Krislov and three college deans told the campus community in an open letter that they hope the ordeal will lead to a stronger Oberlin. Students and professors gathered Monday afternoon to talk about mutual respect.
Hate-filled graffiti and racially charged displays are hardly unusual on college campuses. But what makes this string of incidents so shocking is that it happened at a place tied so closely with educating and empowering blacks in America.
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 that aided escaped slaves.
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.
Isaac Fuhrman, a psychology from Lexington, Mass., said the incidents were upsetting, especially for black students.
“I guess for them, Oberlin doesn’t seem like such a safe haven perhaps,” said Fuhrman, who is white.
There are no fraternity or sorority houses at Oberlin, and athletics isn’t a big part of campus life. Instead, students come to study music, art and creative writing.
Notable recent alumni include Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO series “Girls” – a show featuring several characters who met at Oberlin.
Dunham wrote on her Twitter account Monday that she was saddened by the hate-filled incidents.
“Hey Obies, remember the beautiful, inclusive and downright revolutionary history of the place you call home. Protect each other,” she wrote.