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As classes resume, Oberlin grapples with hate messages

By CNN Staff
updated 8:03 AM EST, Wed March 6, 2013
  • The messages included swastikas and posters with racial slurs
  • Classes were canceled after a report of someone outfitted in KKK regalia
  • Two students have been identified as being involved in the postings
  • President Krislov refuses comment, saying "It is a law enforcement matter"

Oberlin, Ohio () -- A day after students at Oberlin College put down their books to focus on how to respond to a spate of hate messages targeting blacks, Jews and gays on campus, classes resumed Tuesday amid tension.

The messages included graffiti with swastikas, posters containing racial slurs and other derogatory statements targeting various student communities and fliers bearing racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic language.

A student's report on Monday that she had seen someone on campus dressed like a member of the Ku Klux Klan led the school to suspend classes for the day.

"I saw someone in what seemed to be KKK paraphernalia walking on a pathway, like, a pathway that leads to South Campus," the student, Sunceray Tavler, told CNN affiliate WJW. "Just seeing that and having that sink in, this is something that's real, that actually happens."

Racism mystery at Oberlin College

Police said they received a report of a student wearing a blanket on his or her shoulders but could not say whether the incidents were related.

Two students have been identified as being involved in the postings from February and will be subject to college disciplinary procedures, Oberlin police said.

Oberlin President Marvin Krislov said he was not able to discuss the details of the ongoing investigation. "It is a law enforcement matter," he told CNN.

He praised Monday's campuswide focus on the matter, calling it "an educational moment." The students "feel inspired because this institution has the courage to talk about these issues and to confront concerns and that that is part of our educational mission," he said.

As he spoke, a group of students behind him chanted, "No bull****!" Appearing rattled, Krislov ended the interview abruptly.

The events have left some students on edge.

"I was pretty horrified to hear that somebody was dressing as a member of the KKK, because that's something I've only seen before in the movies, on TV," said student Yangran Chang. "It's really unsettling."

"I didn't so much feel threatened for myself, but I felt threatened for the community that I live in," said Joshua Blue, a freshman. "Because Oberlin has such a reputation for being a very open and accepting place where people of any walk of life can come and live, that someone was threatening that way of life was kind of scary."

The report led to Monday's one-day suspension of classes. "All of the students came together to rally against these things," Blue said. "It wasn't so much of a rally of trying to lash out at the people that committed these acts, but almost a rally to come together and show our support for each other."

Meredith Gadsby, associate professor and chairwoman of the Africana Studies Department, said she had seen "isolated events" during her 13 years at the school, "but I've never seen the concentration of bias incidents that I've seen over the last four weeks."

She said she felt anger but did not feel threatened, "in some ways because I'm a grownup and have experiences beyond Oberlin." But students may have handled the incidents differently. "They have had their faith shattered a little bit because they expected to come here and escape some of these larger issues. I'm not quite so idealistic. I do not feel unsafe, but I understand why they do."

The incidents have resulted in more than a teachable moment.

On Wednesday, the school is offering a workshop for faculty to support their efforts to address the issues in the classroom. "Students are coming to class with an eagerness and also a desire to make connections between the events going on in their lives and what they are studying in their history or literature classes or other places on campus," said Dean of Arts and Sciences Sean Decatur.

The school prides itself on being progressive and inclusive. This college of 2,900 students was a center for abolitionists and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

CNN's Mary Snow and Dugald McConnell in Oberlin and Tom Watkins in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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