Law & the Courts

Oberlin Is Forced to Check Its Woke Privilege

Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery in Oberlin, Ohio. (via Facebook)
It is wrong to steal, even if you are an Oberlin student.

If there is one thing you learn about at Oberlin College, the notoriously progressive liberal-arts college, it is surely privilege: white privilege, hetero privilege, gender privilege, you name it. 

Now, an Ohio jury has identified an entirely new variety, woke privilege, and resolved to hold people who believe they are protected by it to account.

The jury handed down a staggering $11 million verdict against Oberlin for a smear campaign against a local business, and it awarded another $33 million in punitive damages to the targeted mom-and-pop store, Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery.

The damages will certainly be reduced, but the verdict is a shot across the bow of well-heeled institutions tempted to join social-justice mobs.

Oberlin thought that it could defame Gibson’s as racist with impunity, that the hothouse rules of campus politics applied (i.e., anyone accused of racism is ipso facto guilty of racism), and that no one would question its superior righteousness and cultural power vis-à-vis a mere local business.

In other words, Oberlin counted on its woke privilege to give it the latitude to discount reason, evidence, and fair play. 

Gibson’s was the victim of this affair twice over. The imbroglio began when a black student, accompanied by two friends, attempted to shoplift wine from the store, and the owner’s son pursued and detained him. Police arrested the students, who were charged with crimes.

It is wrong to steal, even if you are an Oberlin student, even if you are a member of a historically oppressed group. But the Oberlin worldview is opposed to such simplistic truths, and students immediately began protesting Gibson’s on the theory that, because the store stopped black kids from shoplifting, it must be racist.

Oberlin College’s Student Senate passed a resolution declaring, “Gibson’s has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.”

The facts of the case were readily available, including that one of the arrested students quickly offered to plead guilty to theft (all three students eventually took pleas and made statements absolving Gibson’s of any misconduct or racial animus).

No matter. As far as Oberlin is concerned, the arc of the moral universe bends toward whatever its students are protesting at any given moment. So the school pitched in. 

Its dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, formerly the special assistant to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion (of course), joined the protesters with a bullhorn. She helped distribute flyers condemning Gibson’s and calling for a boycott: “This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”

Students made copies of the defamatory flyers in the music conservancy offices, where the school bought them pizza and beverages and lent them other logistical support.

The school suspended its longtime business with Gibson’s, and for good measure, Oberlin’s Department of Africana Studies posted a comment on Facebook: “Their food is rotten and they profile black students.”

Ho-hum, you might say, just another reputation casually and arbitrarily destroyed in 21st-century America. But Gibson’s refused to accept the blow to its standing and bottom line, and sued. Oberlin’s defenses — it was neutral in the dispute between its students and the store — were shredded at trial (admirably covered in detail by the website Legal Insurrection).

Documents revealed that the Oberlin administration was at times afraid of its students (even hesitating to condemn shoplifting) and at times viewed them as a weapon. When a professor publicly objected to the school’s handling of the matter, Meredith Raimondo said in a text: “F*** him. I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.” 

David Gibson, an owner of the store, repeatedly asked Oberlin to make a statement that Gibson’s isn’t racist as a gesture toward reconciliation. The school arrogantly refused. It is now set to pay dearly, and justifiably, for its woke privilege.

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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