When I first came to Oberlin, I thought I would be really bored here. It's a small town. Unless you have a car, you're pretty much immobilized within a two or three mile radius. I quickly came to love the sensation of living and existing in such a (relatively) small space, though. In fact, on my list of potential blog entries from last semester, one of them was titled "On Living In a Bubble," in which I planned to describe what a nice little safe haven Oberlin is from the big, bad outside world.
Turns out though, Oberlin isn't a bubble. Simply being here unfortunately cannot protect me, or anyone else, from life happening.
Over the past month, there have been a series of hate related incidents (racist vandalism, homophobic graffiti, etc.) across campus. There was a rally (which you can read about here), and many seminars held and emails sent to address the issue. A few days ago, classes were cancelled after the late-night spotting of someone dressed in KKK regalia near the African Heritage House. Needless to say, everyone's tempers were enflamed.
There are several very articulate blog posts that give just a few of the many insights people had on the whole ordeal. Ida's blog takes on the perspective of a strong ally to those most directly affected while Simba's blog takes on the perspective of a member of our community most affected. Dale's blog takes on the perspective of a musician, and Paris' blog takes on the perspective of what I imagine most Oberlin students' general feelings are on the issue. Part of a comment on Paris' post really spoke to me. It reads:
"It has been important for me to remember that as much fondness and respect as I have for Oberlin, it is certainly not perfect nor a bubble, and that the safety and welcome I feel in this place depend on privileges I have."
As a second-semester first-year, this is something I have only come to terms with recently. While last semester felt very cuddly and enclosed, this semester has brought a new set of unanticipated challenges. Between the untimely death of a friend, the struggles of Kosher Halal Co-op (of which I am currently a part of) to work out their differences with OSCA, and this series of hate crimes, my Oberlin Bubble has popped.
I realize now more than I ever have before that Oberlin belongs on a map, just like every other place in the world. Sometimes when I am leaving for or returning from a break, it's hard to reconcile this college town with the immediately surrounding area, and with the larger outside world. It is really quite easy to mistake this place for a little snow globe, complete with picturesque buildings, tiny flakes of falling snow, and of course the glass sphere encasing it all.
Sometimes I still think I'm in a bubble, and in many ways I am. I am desperately trying to appreciate what the bubble mentality affords me--a sense of peace, focus and complete presence--while trying to remember that just because I'm in this quasi-bubble doesn't mean everything will be right in the world, in my world.
When I juxtapose the way I felt about Oberlin last semester with the way I feel about it now, it makes me laugh. I wouldn't say what I feel now is any more valid than before, nor any more cynical. Maybe it's a bit more in touch with reality. Either way, I am curious to know where I'll be by my senior year, if just this small fraction of my time here could have provoked such a huge change in mentality.
Paradigm shifts, if you will, are never easy. But I know I'm not the only one whose worldview is constantly being upheaved and turned on its head. I imagine that this must be what so many of us go to college for: to learn from how we react to our new environments, on an ever-changing, day-to-day basis.
The average lifespan of a bubble is somewhere less than 5 full seconds. Relatively speaking, I think I have been at Oberlin for somewhere around 6 seconds. I'm glad to have been afforded the comfort of being in a bubble for a little while, but am ready to proceed with the remainder of my time here covered in soapy bubble suds.