Thursday, November 04, 2004

Uncomfortable Oberlin Republicans?

Volokh conspirator Orin Kerr has posted a letter written by the president of Oberlin to its students, thanking them for their political activity, in which she wrote, "Many of you, I know, are deeply unhappy with the results of the 2004 presidential election. I sure know that I am. But political and social change often takes a much longer time to bring about than we think it should. Any group of people who can accomplish what you managed to bring off yesterday will certainly be able to make a real difference in this nation. Keep up the fight."

Kerr responds: "I think it's great that college students are playing an active role in politics, and it's commendable for a college president to congratulate students for their efforts. Plus, Oberlin has an established reputation as a liberal institution, so it's a fair bet that most of the e-mail's recipients appreciate the kind words after a tough loss. Still, might you not feel just a bit uncomfortable receiving this message if you are an Oberlin student who voted for Bush?"

At Chicago, no such letter was sent out, but it's definitely assumed, by fellow students and faculty alike, that just about everyone is disappointed that Bush was re-elected. While I do see his point, unlike Kerr, I'm not so sure that a Bush supporter ought to take offense at the Oberlin president's letter. It helps to figure out: why is student disappointment about the election outcome assumed?

1) Many students are actually disappointed, are genuinely upset, and make that known.
2) The disappointed ones probably feel more comfortable speaking up than do the Bush supporters. The day after the elections, there were a whole lot more people still in Kerry paraphernalia than in Bush gear, although I know plenty of people walking around the U of C are Bush supporters. So the disappointed are visible, while the Bush voters on campus, with few exceptions, are not.
3) Young people are supposed to be liberal, and people of the Oberlin president's generation see a few activist types milling about, see more than a few Kerry buttons, and don't even consider the possibility that today's college students aren't the same as the ones who, like the Oberlin president, graduated from a liberal college in 1969.
4) In the case of Oberlin, by choosing such a school, one signs on to a certain set of liberal values, and attending a place like Oberlin as a conservative is a bit like attending a religiously affiliated college as a student of a different religion. You might like certain things about the place, but you have to get used to the fact that you differ from the mainstream in some fundamental ways, and thus can't really take offense at things like the college president's letter. At Chicago, this is not the case, and I'm not expecting a letter from President Randel, consoling the student body, any time soon, nor am I hoping to receive one.


Molly said...

I was going to post on that too! I think that this isn't a huge deal but that it was definetly rather ridiculous for a couple of reasons. a) I doubt that Dye would have sent out a similar e-mail if the election outcome had been different. b) If Oberlin is so liberal, and I'm sure it is, the student body is getting enough comfort from each other, do they really need a "hug" from their president? c) I think Dye did this because it made her feel good about herself and her role in history, like she and the liberal student body of Oberlin REALLY did MAKE A DIFFERENCE, unfortuanetly for them, not as big of one as the minority Bush-voting population of Oberlin and THE REST OF AMERICA (it exists! I swear!) did.

Phoebe said...

I agree, Molly. I mean, such a letter is basically a waste of everyone's time--everyone knows Oberlin students are liberal, and that, in this election, the liberals' efforts didn't produce what they'd hoped. All it does is make conservative students at Oberlin feel awkward. But, as I wrote in the post, conservative students at a place like Oberlin knew what they were getting into and, while they add a bit of political diversity to the place, for most purposes, they might as well not count. At U of C, things are a bit different, so when students here are assumed to be liberal, there will always be those students who are forced to either keep silent or become outspoken right-wingers. I honestly think those at U of C who assume the student body to be 100% liberal are just out to lunch, because, I mean, pick up the Maroon...

Anonymous said...

On Wednesday, one could physically feel a somehow depressed atmosphere on campus. Being European (who always mistrust Amercian Democracy), I took this as an interesting sign of how deeply involved, in a very emotional sense, Americans can become with their elections. (I was at an election party - that doesn't exist in Europe - where people started to cry!)
And, concerning the Oberlin letter: In fact, my professors spoke in class on Wednesday of 'yesterday's catastrophe' are alluded to the understandable bad mood of students. This is, for sure, not a letter from Randel, but still: It is not really academic neutrality.