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.
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.
Pleasant, who is black, 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 fliers and other messages left around campus since then were just a prank to get out of classes.
The college canceled Monday’s classes after the early morning sighting of someone in a hooded robe. Classes resumed Tuesday.
Oberlin city police Chief Thomas Miller said investigators are trying to determine whether the white robe sighting was reliable or possibly related to a separate sighting of a person wrapped in a blanket.
He said two students are under investigation for possible involvement in the graffiti incidents and are facing college disciplinary action, but no criminal charges have been filed. Miller said it wasn’t clear whether the actions were a student prank or motivated by bigotry.
Meanwhile, the police department has provided stepped-up patrols around the campus at the request of the college.
In an open letter, college President Marvin Krislov and three college deans told the campus community 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 not 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 major from Lexington, Mass., said the incidents were upsetting, especially for black students.