Oberlin College is a small liberal arts college in northern Ohio, just southwest of Cleveland. Like most of America’s colleges and universities, including Harvard and Yale, Oberlin was founded by Christian clergy largely to train Christian clergy. Two Presbyterian ministers, John Jay Shipherd and Philo Stewart, founded the school in 1833, naming it after an Alsatian Protestant minister they both admired, Jean-Frédéric Oberlin. They established a non-denominational theological seminary at the same time.
Oberlin has a distinguished history. The Oberlin Conservatory of Music is the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the United States. Oberlin’s first president, Asa Mahan, was opposed to slavery, and Oberlin soon began to admit students of all races, including free blacks—very unusual at the time. In 1837, the school admitted four female students, becoming the first coeducational college in the United States. The second president of Oberlin, Charles Grandison Finney, was also an abolitionist, and Oberlin became an important stop on the Underground Railroad, which clandestinely transported blacks out of the slave-holding southern states and into Canada.
In the 19th Century, Oberlin was well known for sending Christian missionaries abroad. In 1881, thirty Oberlin students journeyed to the remote Shanxi province in China, and worked as missionaries over the next two decades. Ten died of disease, and fifteen were killed during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
But also like most of America’s colleges, over the course of the 20th Century Oberlin drifted away from its religious founding, became secularized, and ultimately become a factory for indoctrinating students with bad ideas. The Christian seminary was closed in 1965. During the Vietnam war, the student body and the faculty became increasingly Leftist, and Oberlin has become famous—I would say infamous—for Leftist student activism.
One of Oberlin’s more recent enthusiasms is siding with Arab Muslims, who control 22 nation-states in the Maghreb and the Middle East, against Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. In September 2014, on Rosh Hashanah, Oberlin “Students for a Free Palestine” placed 2,133 black flags in the main square of the campus in honor of Gazans who died in the 2014 conflict with Israel (which was provoked by Hamas’ six-month campaign of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians.)
Oberlin College is highly ranked; it was recently ranked the 30th best liberal arts college in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. The campus is exceptionally beautiful and full of expensive buildings and athletic facilities. The college’s endowment currently stands at $887 million. The annual tuition is $52,000 per year. While most students are on some type of scholarship and/or financial aid, the average tuition cost after aid is still $33,000 per year. Room and board are an additional $15,000 per year, books average $2,000 and miscellaneous fees total about $700.00, so the full expense for boarding students without financial aid is over $70,000 per year. But not just any rich kid can attend Oberlin; the school admits only a third of its applicants, who must have good grades and test scores. The average SAT score among admitted applicants is 1365 (better than 91% of test-takers) and the average high school GPA is 3.57.
Oberlin students are financially privileged and academically elite. They are some of the brightest and most affluent college students in the country. Keep that in mind as you read what follows.
The Gibson’s Bakery Affair
On November 9, 2016, an Oberlin student, Jonathan Aladin, attempted to steal several bottles of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned store in the village of Oberlin, Ohio. Allyn D. Gibson, the grandson of the store’s owner, was clerking at the time and saw Aladin leave the store with the bottles without paying. He chased Aladin across the street, where an altercation broke out which ended with Aladin and his companions, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence, also Oberlin students, beating and kicking Gibson as he lay on the ground.
The Police arrived and arrested the three Oberlin students. There was never any question as to their guilt, and all of them pled guilty to various charges arising out of the incident. That should have been the end of the story, and if any semblance of decency remained in American academia, it would have been. But it was not.
A false rumor spread through the Oberlin campus that Aladin, who is black, had been “racially profiled.” This escalated into a claim that the bakery had a history of racial profiling and disparate treatment of blacks. A campaign emerged accusing the bakery of racism. Protesters assembled outside the bakery and, in some cases, entered the bakery and harassed customers. Gibson’s Bakery was also a vendor to Oberlin’s campus food services, but the student protestors demanded that the contract be terminated, and Oberlin’s administration meekly complied.
Oberlin would later argue that it was just supporting its students’ freedom of speech. But Oberlin Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo organized the campaign, orchestrated the protests, contributed logistical support to the protesters, and attempted to silence those among Oberlin’s faculty and students who objected to the baseless smear campaign. Raimondo was the prime mover in the effort to demonize and destroy Gibson’s. Former Oberlin president Marvin Krislov also egged on the mob, as did the director of Oberlin’s “Multicultural Resource Center,” Toni Myers, and its vice president for communications, Ben Jones, among others. Oberlin was in, up to its eyeballs, on the Gibson’s Bakery smear hoax.
As a result of the protest and boycott, Gibson’s Bakery, a family-owned concern that had served the Oberlin community since 1885, began losing money. When the Gibson family complained to Oberlin College about the unfair treatment, they were ignored, and were forced to seek redress in the civil courts.
It emerged during the litigation that, in recent years, Gibson’s Bakery had frequently been victimized by shoplifting, most of it by Oberlin students. Police records show 40 shoplifting arrests at Gibson’s between 2011 through 2016. Over 82 percent of the arrested shoplifters were Oberlin students. Thirty-two of those arrested (80 percent) were white, six were black, and two were Asian. Oberlin objected to the admission of these facts at the trial, but the evidence was highly relevant to show that Gibson’s clerks were not “racially profiling” black patrons. They were profiling all Oberlin College students, most of whom are white and many of whom have no compunction about stealing from local merchants.
The Oberlin students don’t steal only from Gibson’s Bakery. Oberlin College has fostered a culture of theft, and the Oberlin students steal from all the merchants in Oberlin village. A December 2017 article in the student newspaper by Editor-in-Chief Jake Berstein entitled, “The Culture of Theft: Student Shoplifting and its Effects on the Community,” reports some very damning facts:
“To start, we uncovered a sad truth: that the majority of shoplifting in Oberlin is carried out by students. It is widely understood by shop-owners downtown that the drop in shoplifting in the summers when students are typically away points to the fact that it is students who do most of the thefts.”
One student, in describing her multiple thefts from Gibson’s, stated:
“’It wasn’t expensive, and I felt like it…I just preferred not paying for it, but I could have.’ This was a testament that came up a lot in these conversations: that students just felt like it.”
This is not a case of Jean Val Jean stealing a loaf of bread to keep his family from starving. These are affluent, extraordinarily privileged students attending an elite liberal arts college who “just preferred not paying for” merchandise. They stole because they “just felt like it.”
“When we asked another student if they had ever stolen anything downtown, they said, ‘probably but let me think about it . . . yeah, no I do that all the time.’ The student then went on to the tell the story of how they lifted a $100.00 bottle of wine from Gibson’s by having a friend slip it into their backpack.”
These young masters and mistresses are uninhibited in bragging about their crimes. They think it is cool to rip off local merchants. But if you were an employer looking to hire someone who might handle your company’s money, would you even consider an Oberlin graduate?
“A justification we heard repeated [was] that shoplifting was just a normal cost of having a business. Some argued that the items were just too expensive and the high price justified their taking them. Others acknowledged that the prices were probably higher to account for the high levels of shoplifting.”
You see how smart these kids are? Smart enough to figure out that the law-abiding who do not steal probably have to pay more to make up for their theft. But these “elite” Oberlin students don’t care, because they are moral dwarfs. They’ve been lectured endlessly about “white privilege” but they’ve never been taught the basics of right and wrong.
And the costs are adding up. Krista Long, the owner of the local Ben Franklin’s, states that shoplifting is costing her about $10,000 a year, but she said that “what hurts more is the lack of respect and decency.” The Oberlin students’ insouciant contempt and disdain for hard-working business owners hurts more than the lost money.
And lest you think that the author of “the Culture of Theft,” Jake Berstein, is a shining example of a decent, moral Oberlin student, a counterexample to those he writes about, think again. He’s a good writer—except for his ignorance of, or conscientious objection to, gender-specific pronouns—but he’s just another foot soldier in Oberlin’s student army of thieves:
“I myself have stolen from the very people I’ve interviewed for this article. I could have paid for the items easily, but I chose to steal them instead.”
Clearly, he knew what he was writing about. Elders Shipherd and Stewart would be spinning in their graves if they knew what happened to the college they founded.
The Connection Between Stealing and Social Justice Activism
Keep in mind that Oberlin has been known for Left-wing student activism for decades, and its student body has self-selected for activism. Colleges acquire reputations, and their reputations attract students accordingly. If you want to play big-school college football and contend for national titles, you go to Alabama; if you want to be a Social Justice Warrior and do Leftist activism, you go to Oberlin.
What does it tell you about the “social justice” movement that so many of Oberlin’s social justice warriors are thieves? This phenomenon is seen in the lives of many prominent socialists/Leftists throughout history. They believe—unconsciously or consciously, implicitly or explicitly—that their political correctness excuses their personal trespasses, that being right (according to their own lights) on the big social and political issues of the day excuses their sins. Historian Paul Johnson explores this theme in his 1989 book, Intellectuals. It turns out that intellectuals and ideologues often lead extraordinarily bad personal lives; they think they’re entitled to since they’re “saving the world” with whatever crackpot utopian scheme they’re pushing.
I wonder if some Adventists don’t fall into this same trap. We can easily think like this: “I’m right about the Sabbath, the state of the dead, how to interpret Daniel and the Revelation, and the health message; I’m spreading so much truth and doing so much good that it’s really no big deal that I’m having an affair with my friend’s wife.”
We would do well to remember Paul’s admonition:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
We may think we’re changing the world for the better by overthrowing the patriarchy, or stamping out “white privilege,” or battling global warming, or banning plastic straws, but if we do not have love for our families, friends, and neighbors, then we’re nowhere. And by “love” I do not mean cheap sentiment, but real, Biblical love expressed in moral and ethical behavior, for starters. If we really love our neighbors, then obviously we do not steal from them. If we don’t show that kind of love, then we’re nothing and nowhere.
The Big Finish
The jury that heard Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College didn’t appreciate Oberlin’s twisted behavior. The common people of Ohio, unlike its ideology-addled academics, understand that it is wrong to accuse someone of racism with no evidence, and financially ruin them for no reason other than that it is trendy in contemporary Leftism. The jury awarded Gibson’s Bakery $11,000,000 in compensatory damages and $33,000,000 in punitive damage, a total of $44 million.
The verdict was intended to send a clear message to Oberlin College that its behavior was unacceptable. I would like to think that the message was not only that false, ruinous accusations of racism are reprehensible, but also that Oberlin should return to its Christians roots and start teaching students about right and wrong. Perhaps Oberlin could institute a mandatory freshman seminar on ethics which highlights the fact that, in all cultures and religious traditions, stealing is wrong. The Oberlin village merchants would certainly appreciate that.