How Oberlin Played the Race Card and Lost

Peter Wood:

The suit would have amounted to very little if, in fact, Gibson’s Bakery had indeed engaged in racial profiling or any other form of racism. Those claims, however, were demonstrably false. Gibson’s Bakery in recent years had been victimized by a great deal of shoplifting, mostly by Oberlin students. We know this because police records show 40 instances of shoplifting in which the perpetrators were arrested from 2011 through 2016. More than four out of five of those arrested (82.5 percent) were Oberlin students. Thirty-two of those arrested (80 percent) were white, six were black, and two were Asian.

The College fought (unsuccessfully) to exclude this information from the trial. Plainly, Gibson’s Bakery had a problem with Oberlin students shoplifting, but it was a problem that had nothing to do with race. Students at Oberlin generally understood the situation. The student newspaper, the Oberlin Grape, reported in a December 2017 article about Oberlin College’s student “Culture of Theft.” The article reports the insouciance of students towards pilfering local businesses. As one student put it, describing her multiple thefts from Gibson’s: “It wasn’t expensive, and I felt like it…I just preferred not paying for it, but I could have.”

Stealing from local businesses is, in the eyes of many Oberlin students, a quasi-right or privilege. They don’t feel guilty about it. They feel cool, or to put in today’s language, entitled.

They also feel uninhibited about making up stories and flinging accusations without any need for evidence or any sense of simple fairness. How widely are attitudes like this spread among Oberlin’s 2,800-some students? Plainly there is no way of knowing. But perhaps it is a factor employers should consider when an Oberlin graduate applies for a job. Honesty isn’t high on the list of values that Oberlin cultivates in its students