This week, however, the bill came due for Oberlin when a jury awarded over $11 million in damages to a family bakery for being defamed as racist by its college students and officials. That motion was later followed by a whopping $33 million punitive award. It is only the latest example of how faculty members and officials are driving their institutions toward financial and intellectual bankruptcy, thanks to their advocacy or acquiescence.
The latest controversy began with a shoplifting case. In 2016, an African American student named Jonathan Aladin was caught trying to steal a bottle of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, which was established in 1885 and has been closely tied to the college for over a century. When the grandson of the owner tried to stop Aladin, a fight ensued and police were called. Aladin and two other students, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence, were arrested. Students, professors, and administrators held protests, charging that the bakery was racist and profiled the three students.
Oberlin maintains in court filings that the son and grandson of the owners of Gibson’s Bakery “violently and unreasonably attacked” an unarmed student, but that is not how the police viewed it. Aladin was charged with robbery, which is a second degree felony, and Whettstone and Lawrence were charged with first degree misdemeanor assault. Police rejected claims of a racial motive and noted that, over a period of five years, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s Bakery, but only six were African American. It also is not how the court viewed it. When prosecutors cut a plea deal to reduce the charge to attempted theft, a local judge refused. He said the plea deal appeared to be the result of a permanent “economic sanction” by the college in which the victim had little choice but to relent. Ultimately, all three students pleaded guilty.
The merits of the case did not seem to bother Oberlin officials or student protesters. Dean of students Meredith Raimondo reportedly joined the massive protests and even handed out a flier denouncing the bakery as a racist business. When some people contacted Oberlin to object that the students admitted guilt, special assistant to the president for community and government relations Tita Reed wrote that it did not change a “damn thing” for her. Reed also reportedly participated in the campus protests.
Other faculty members encouraged students who denounced the bakery. The chairman of Africana studies posted, “Very proud of our students!” Oberlin barred purchases from the bakery, pending its investigation into whether this was “a pattern and not an isolated incident.” Raimondo also pressured Bon Appetit, a major contractor with the college, to cease business with the bakery. Reed even suggested that “once charges are dropped, orders will resume” and added that she was “baffled by their combined audacity and arrogance to assume the position of victim.”