A slice of Oberlin College’s administration, students, and faculty ganged up on a local bakery.
Oberlin College staff — including deans and professors — and students engaged in demonstrations in front of Gibson’s Bakery following the arrests of … three students, [a] lawsuit [filed by the bakery] stated. The suit also said Oberlin Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo and other college staff members “handed out hundreds of copies” of a flier to the community and the media stating that Gibson’s Bakery and its owners racially profiled and discriminated against the three students. The court documents include a copy of the flier, which included the words “DON’T BUY.” “This is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION,” the flier read, according to the lawsuit.The flier also listed 10 of the bakery’s competitors and urged customers to shop there instead.
Students carried signs accusing the bakery owners of white supremacy or simply saying “Fuck Gibson’s.”
All three students eventually confessed, one to having tried to steal wine, and two others to physically attacking a person from the bakery who tried to stop them as they exited the store.
A jury just told Oberlin to pay the bakery eleven million dollars. Punitive damages – to be decided later – may raise that figure quite a bit.
A subtle moral lesson for Oberlin students from the people who run their school:
- Rush to judgment.
- Pay for your mistake with other people’s tuition money.
Update: Those who argue that this was a bad decision, with frightening implications for free speech on campuses, make two points:
- It is impossible to assess what damage was done to the bakery by a concerted effort (large protest gatherings in front of the store and broadly disseminated messages to the community to boycott Gibson’s because it was and had long been a racist institution) to shut it down.
- The attack on the bakery did not come from officials who speak on behalf of Oberlin. Thus, “to punish a college for not reining in its students, administrators, and faculty even when they are not speaking on the college’s behalf represents an extraordinary threat to academic freedom and to freedom of speech.”
As to #1, you can see from these clashing financial experts at the trial that Oberlin did itself no favors by hiring as their expert someone who dismissed out of hand any evidence of harm to the business. No doubt the guy on the other side inflated stuff, but Oberlin’s problem lies in the fact that when a crowd of people vociferously and steadfastly condemns a business as racist, it’s reasonable to expect long-term damage. UD grants that we’re in a rather gray zone here, but if she consults her own response to obscene deep-rooted bigots of the sort the Oberlin literature about Gibson’s evoked (she shrinks away as fast as possible), it’s intuitively obvious to her that many people are going to stay away from the bakery. Serious damage will ensue.
On #2: Actually, a college should – must – rein in people like the Oberlin vice-president and dean of students who stirred up the student body against an innocent business (UD personally thinks the deathblow in that trial came from the parade of African American locals who testified that far from a racist location, Gibson’s Bakery was a place of love) and in texts boasted of her ability to organize the students to do her bidding. Oberlin might have saved itself a lot of grief if it at least issued a statement acknowledging that this woman acted badly. Intemperate ideologues who rush, disastrously, to judgment, don’t seem to UD the very best candidates for deans of students; but if you insist on hiring them, you should be prepared to distance yourself when they make a mess of things. If you choose not to distance yourself, you should be prepared to absorb some legal blows.