The Ivy Coach Daily

September 9, 2022

Race Relations at Oberlin College

Oberlin College has long been a bastion of progressive thinking.

Oberlin College, a stop along the Underground Railroad which helped usher runaway slaves to freedom as well as one of the first universities to admit Black students, is in some hot water over its role in accusing a local store of racism. The store, Gibson’s Bakery, situated across the street from the Ohio-based campus, has long served Oberlin College students, faculty, and staff. But after the store caught a student who happened to be Black allegedly shoplifting, its owners accused the storied institution of defaming them. A court has now decided that Oberlin College should have to fork over money to Gibson’s Bakery — to the tune of $36.59 million!

As Anemona Hartocollis reports for The New York Times in a piece entitled “After a Legal Fight, Oberlin Says It Will Pay $36.59 Million to a Local Bakery,” “That 2016 dispute with Gibson’s Bakery resulted in a yearslong legal fight and resonated beyond the small college town in Ohio, turning into a bitter national debate over criminal justice, race, free speech and whether the college had failed to hold students to account. The decision by the college’s board of trustees, announced Thursday, came nine days after the Ohio Supreme Court had declined to hear the college’s appeal of a lower-court ruling…In a statement, Oberlin said that ’this matter has been painful for everyone.’ It added, ’We hope that the end of the litigation will begin the healing of our entire community.’ The college acknowledged that the size of the judgment, which includes damages and interest, was ’significant.’ But it said that ’with careful financial planning,’ including insurance, it could be paid ’without impacting our academic and student experience.’ Oberlin has a robust endowment of nearly $1 billion.”

While Oberlin has exhausted the appeals process and done seemingly everything the institution could to try to avoid having to pay such a hefty penalty to the owners of Gibson’s Bakery, a store that we’re told has not always had a sterling reputation among Oberlin students, it seems the historic institution has no choice but to pay up now. It’s a shame to us that a school that proudly educates so many of our nation’s most promising youth will have to fork over so much money, likely out of their endowment — money that could have been earmarked to educate low-income students, some of whom would be the first in their families to attend any college, much less Oberlin. It seems it will be future Oberlin students who will pay the price of this fiasco and that is most regrettable. Needless to say, we won’t be eating at Gibson’s Bakery anytime soon.

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