My brother graduated from Oberlin College, which automatically gave it a place in my heart—well, that and the amazing Gibson's doughnuts he'd bring with him when he came home on vacation.
When our daughter was interviewing at colleges, the shine came off Oberlin a bit. The school openly bragged about its "progressive" reputation, but to my surprise we found it to be the least open-minded of all the schools any of our children had visited—especially when it came to home education. Every other college was happy to accept homeschooled students, but Oberlin was clearly reactionary and suspicious, putting up the most onerous barriers to their acceptance. But she chose to go elsewhere for other reasons, so I chose to remember Oberlin for the doughnuts.
Recently, however, I heard news of an incident that began over five years ago and is still dragging on, shaking my respect to the core. Probably I shouldn't be too hard on Oberlin, as my own alma mater disillusioned me years ago. But in this case, Gibson's Bakery is involved. Colleges have gotten away with many terrible things, but let them mess with good doughnuts, and I must speak up.
The excerpts below are from the relevant Wikipedia article. I know Wikipedia is hardly the most reliable source, and has its biases, but I chose it because of all the articles I read, its was the most positive toward the college.
The beginning, November 2016
An underage African-American Oberlin College student ... attempted to purchase a bottle of wine using a fake identification card. The store clerk, Allyn D. Gibson ... rejected the fake ID. Gibson noticed that the student was concealing two other bottles of wine inside his jacket. According to a police report, Gibson told the student he was contacting the police, and when Gibson pulled out his phone to take a photo of the student, the student slapped it away, striking Gibson's face. The student ran out of the store. Gibson followed and then grabbed and held onto the shoplifter outside the store after the shoplifter had also assaulted the store owner.... Two other students ... friends of the shoplifter, joined the scuffle. When the police arrived, they witnessed Gibson lying on the ground with the three students punching and kicking him. The police report stated that Gibson sustained a swollen lip, several cuts, and other minor injuries. The police arrested the students, charging all three with assault and the shoplifter with robbery as well. In August 2017, the three students pleaded guilty, stating that they believed Gibson's actions were justified and were not racially motivated. Their plea deals carried no jail time in exchange for restitution, the public statement, and a promise of future good behavior.
Of course the college responded to the incident by disciplining the students involved, right? Not a chance. Students, faculty, and administrators united to attack the store.
The day after the incident, faculty and hundreds of students gathered in a park across the street from Gibson's Bakery protesting what they saw as racial profiling and excessive use of force by Gibson toward the shoplifter. The Oberlin Student Senate immediately passed a resolution saying that the bakery "has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike," calling for all students to "immediately cease all support, financial and otherwise, of Gibson's," and called upon Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov to publicly condemn the bakery. For about two months, the college suspended its purchasing agreement with the bakery for the school's dining halls....
Oberlin blamed the bakery for bringing the protests on itself, claiming that "Gibson bakery's archaic chase-and-detain policy regarding suspected shoplifters was the catalyst for the protests...."
The following, apparently, is what the college thinks should be done with students who steal:
Oberlin made a proposal to all local businesses that if a business would contact the college instead of the police when students were caught shoplifting, the college would advise the students that if caught shoplifting a second time they would face legal charges.
There's more, and worse. I went to college in the early 1970's; I know that students, and even faculty, can do some pretty stupid things. But in my day the administrators were a little more sane and stable.
The other side of the story
Local police records showed no previous accusations of racial profiling by Gibson's Bakery. Of the forty adults arrested for shoplifting from the bakery in a five-year period, only six were black. As a part of the three students' guilty plea in August 2017, each read a statement saying, "I believe the employees of Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated. They were merely trying to prevent an underage sale." Reporters obtained an email written by ... an employee for the school's communications department, telling her bosses that she found the protests "very disturbing," saying, "I have talked to 15 townie friends who are [persons of color] and they're disgusted and embarrassed by the protest. In their view, the kid was breaking the law, period... To them this is not a race issue at all." During the trial ... a black man who worked his way through technical college while working at Gibson’s Bakery testified that the racist allegations against his former employer were untrue. "In my life, I have been a marginalized person, so I know what it feels like to be called something that you know you’re not. I could feel his pain. I knew where he was coming from." ... [A] black man, employed at Gibson's since 2013, testified that he had observed no racist treatment of customers or employees. "Never, not even a hint. Zero reason to believe, zero evidence of that."
The latest judicial ruling
On April 1, 2022, the Ninth Ohio District Court of Appeals dismissed Oberlin College's appeal. In a 3-0 decision, the panel upheld the jury verdict that Oberlin College defamed, inflicted distress, and illegally interfered with the bakery. The damages were capped by Ohio state law at $25 million in total damages, in place of the jury's original verdict of $11.1 million in compensatory and $33.2 million in punitive damages. Oberlin was also ordered to pay $6.3 million in attorney's fees to the bakery.
Oberlin is still refusing to pay what they owe, and two of the owners of Gibson's Bakery have died awaiting justice.
Disgraceful! What an extremely poor example of justice and morality the administration of this college is showing their students and everyone else. They should be fined $10,000 per day for every day they refused to pay what they owe!
UPDATE: Having run out of appeals, Oberlin College finally agreed to pay the Gibson family the court-ordered $36 million. Not that money can in any way make up for the six years of suffering (including two deaths) that the family went through after Oberlin maliciously and mendaciously attacked the bakery that meant Oberlin to me, but maybe the lesson will hurt enough to make them think twice next time.
I feel a sudden urge for a whole wheat donut.