{ Obie Talk }

Let me remind you that I am not hired to sell Oberlin to you. I am hired to tell you about my experience here. There is a dark side to Oberlin. It goes by the name of Obie Talk.

Obie Talk is a widely known about, online, anonymous forum, only accessible to current college students. It is used to say anything about anybody.

These are three screenshots, with expletives blacked out, that I took from Obie Talk this morning. The first one appeared about two months ago. I hardly ever look at Obie Talk, and I certainly never post on it. But everyone here knows about it, and there is a constant anxiety among many over what people are saying about you on there. My guess is that it is frequented by a small group of people, who use it as this forum for racism and sexism. It's a twisted kind of escapism. Someone told me they had seen a post about me, and I looked. It's quite hard to resist, sadly, when you know people are talking about you.

I think I'm a pretty stable and confident person. It didn't really hurt me to see those comments - they just seemed stupid. But the next morning, I remember walking out of my dorm and suddenly feeling so self-conscious. I couldn't stop wondering which of my classmates had written those things about me. It was that sick-awkward feeling that makes you just want to run away and hide in a little cave somewhere.

The same thing has happened to a lot of students I know. Girls, people from minority groups and first years are the common targets.

I have held off on blogging about this for several months now, because I hoped that something would be done to stop this. Nothing has changed, and the small changes proposed, which I will describe below, do nothing to address the real problem of immediate, anonymous victimisation of my fellow students and me.

I know that people have left Oberlin because of things that have been said about them on Obie Talk. The examples I've shown you are pretty mild, compared to a lot of comments out there. The insults are racist, sexist, homophobic, telling someone they are ugly or worthless, or all of the above in one. There are threats of violence and sexual abuse. Nobody would ever say these things in person - it's only under Obie Talk's cloak of anonymity that they feel they can.

I have refrained from giving examples that were addressed to specific people (apart from the one about me), because it's not my place to do so. But almost every insult on Obie Talk is aimed at a specific person. Commenters often address the victim directly, such as: 'Ruby Turok-Squire, you are...'. This is not passive aggression. This is not sensationalism. The intent is clear: to hurt someone.

Here is a student video made this year, about Obie Talk and its effects:

Here is an article written by the Oberlin Afrikana Community, responding in part to Obie Talk.

They say it all, really.

Obie Talk is run by a college junior, Will Adams-Keane, who set it up in his first year here, and seems to present himself as a crusader for free speech. He is, apparently, too busy to monitor the site fully. (Appropriate level of sympathy, please.) As a result, Adams-Keane has allowed anonymous student abuse to continue for the past three years. If this had happened at a university in England, he would have been suspended three years ago for his actions. I believe that universities should do everything in their power to allow students to feel included, accepted and safe. Bullying should never be tolerated. And here we are, at Oberlin of all places, being bullied.

Here's the front page of this week's Oberlin Review:

Volunteer forum moderation? Dean Eric Estes is quoted as saying, 'I don't think the administration should be monitoring Obie Talk. I think the key is empowering students to help shape acceptable discourse for themselves.' He suggests a system of 'flagging', whereby a post will be automatically removed if it gets a certain number of flags. Estes does not seem to understand that the damage of a hateful post is immediate and irreversible.

Here's a quote from the same article, from my boss, Ben Jones: 'There is always something to be learned from the expression of viewpoints, even those we may personally find repulsive.' Does he have any understanding of what it's like for someone to read that they should be 'put in the fields to pick some cotton to get your lard-ass into shape', as a recent post told a certain individual to do? Does he understand that as soon as hate speech has been published online, the damage is done? Moderation comes after the fact. All it really takes is one comment to deeply hurt someone and ruin their lives at Oberlin.

I went to see President Marvin Krislov, to ask about Obie Talk. I told him that if the truth about Obie Talk got out, Oberlin's reputation would be gone. His response was that every college has this kind of website and there's nothing he can do about it. The college says it's not their site, so it's not their problem. This is a website run by a current Oberlin student, exclusively for the use of current students, with access restricted to the Oberlin campus, and yet it's not their problem?

Krislov also told me that he's never been on Obie Talk. He doesn't want to know what's going on. The administration turn a blind eye and pretend that the problem has gone away.

It would be easy for Oberlin to block Obie Talk, because it is only accessible if you are using the Oberlin College WiFi network, or have an Oberlin College email address with which to log in. God forbid, they could even tell their very own student, who has been running this bully forum for three years, to shut it down!

Here's another simple solution: remove the anonymity. If this happened, students would have to take responsibility for what they said, and there would be no problem. The right to freedom of speech is only a right if you speak under your own name and take ownership of your opinions.

If racist graffiti appeared on campus, would the college remove it? Yes. Just because Obie Talk is one step detached from such immediacy does not change the nature of discrimination and does not mean that we should tolerate it when we would not in real life.

I am writing this blog because as a prospie, I would have liked to know that I was practically guaranteed to get cyber-bullied at my new university. If I had known about Obie Talk, I might well not have come to Oberlin. I believe that all students have the right to an education without oppression. It is the job of the institution to protect this right, and Oberlin is failing to do so.

Obie Talk makes me ashamed to go to Oberlin. There is no good in Obie Talk. It goes against everything that I associate with this college: inclusion, acceptance, and freedom to be who you want to be. It is Oberlin's dirty secret. But I don't see why it should be anymore, when we all know it is happening, and we all want it to stop. I speak on behalf of all of my friends here. Obie Talk must be shut down, before it destroys the free, inclusive society that Oberlin represents to so many.

If you feel strongly about this issue, please contact Dean Eric Estes (eric.estes@oberlin.edu) and our college president Marvin Krislov (marvin.krislov@oberlin.edu), to express your views. I'll make sure to keep you updated.

[Thursday, May 3rd: As a point of information, I would like to add a quote from page 57 of the Oberlin Rules and Regulations 2011-12, bottom right of page: 'Oberlin College deplores incidents of discrimination or harrassment wherever they occur - for example between students, between employees, and between students and employees. The college is especially mindful of its obligation to seek learning opportunities for its students. Discrimination or harassment, whether overt or covert, may directly or indirectly have a negative impact on students' abilities to learn. Discrimination not only may have undesirable educational and psychological consequences; it is also against the law. Perpetrators of such behavior can be subject to College adjudication processes, including disciplinary action up to and including termination, suspension, and expulsion as appropriate.'

In that context, consider this letter to the editors of the Review from Estes and Jones, in which they say: 'many thanks to Will for working with us to address this sensitive and complex situation in a fair and balanced way. We remain confident that ObieTalk can be a place that is beneficial to all students, ideally to the point that the administration can forget it even exists -- a very welcome concept to both of us.']

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{ Responses To This Entry }

I admire you for speaking out so sincerely on such a complicated matter. I'm still not sure what should be done about it; there are many pros and cons to weigh.

I'm also an international student and I'll be starting Oberlin in August. While I'm disappointed to learn of this cowardice I'm happy someone stood up against it in such an estimable way.

Thank you.

Posted by: Mati on April 28, 2012 8:49 PM

Hi Mati,
Thanks so much for the support. Oberlin is full of good people, but for some reason, this glitch in our community has become strangely accepted. Let's hope we can change that.
I look forward to meeting you next semester!

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 28, 2012 8:56 PM

Ruby, I also admire you for speaking out here. I think we all want to make this right even if we don't agree completely on how to get there.

That said, I'm not sure why you only posted the first half of my quote, which was "There is always something to be learned from the expression of viewpoints, even those we may personally find repulsive. But there is a big difference between objective dialogue on controversial topics and blatant hate speech that is clearly posted for no other reason than to make people angry."

I think it's pretty clear that I am on your side. Granted, only posting the first half of my quote would make it seem otherwise.

I encourage everyone to read the full article:

Posted by: Ben Jones on April 28, 2012 9:53 PM

Hi Ben,

I only posted the first half of your quote because I believe it is in contradiction with the second half. The only viewpoints that I would ever find truly 'repulsive' are those that are expressed as hate speech. Objective dialogue, which we all value, is never repulsive, and hardly ever takes place on Obie Talk. In fact, I have never seen an example of it.

The second half of your quote is indicative of a misunderstanding of the nature of cyberabuse. I quote: 'blatant hate speech that is clearly posted for no other reason than to make people angry.' Bullying is not done to 'make people angry' - it is a personal attack with a victim, which can be every bit as damaging as a physical assault.

In the article, Adams-Keane dismisses this 'hate speech' as simply trying to 'get a rise out of people.' This is not what I see on Obie Talk. I see direct, calculated, personal attacks. I know that you are on the same side as me, but I do not see that you appreciate the potential that Obie Talk has to do serious harm to individuals. (Indeed, it has already caused such harm.) If you did, that would obligate immediate action on your part.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 28, 2012 10:18 PM

In addition, Ben, does the final sentence of that article not trouble you?

Will Adams-Keane says, when asked what will happen to Obie Talk when he leaves: 'I’ll probably keep it up, and right after I graduate, add everyone’s name to their posts and get the hell out of Oberlin.'

Does this suggest anything other than an intention of injury? Is there any sense of empathy? Does Oberlin condone, and even seek to democratise, such an intention?

I rest my case.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 28, 2012 10:24 PM

I really support your cause. As a future student, the main thing that attracted me to Oberlin was their commitment and acceptance of diversity. I know it is stupid to think that the world is devout of racism and wrong-doings, but Oberlin was my utopia. To know that there are students there that think like this is sickening. I do not think that the school should allow bullying under any circumstance. I plan on going next year, and supporting you any way I can in fixing this problem and website so I can learn at the Oberlin that I know and love.

Posted by: Lindsey Nwabueze on April 28, 2012 10:34 PM

What a brilliant way of putting it! Thank you, Lindsey. I too love Oberlin, and I hope we can protect people here from such hurt. The first step is to break the taboo, so that we can all start talking about the problem. I look forward to meeting you in September!

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 28, 2012 10:44 PM

It takes guts to speak up about this toxic stuff. I admire that you're willing to do it. Keep on being loud!

Posted by: mog '08 on April 28, 2012 11:02 PM

Dear Ruby,

Believe it or not, I want to thank you for your post. I do, in fact, understand the damage hateful speech online or otherwise can cause. As a queer person of color, I was bullied as a young person experiencing first hand the subtle and not so subtle ways racism and homophobia can cause low self-esteem and rob someone of their voice and sense of belonging. For the record and I am sure this makes little difference in your mind, but Ben Jones and I are not suggesting a monitoring system that requires a certain number of flags to remove a post. Rather we are suggesting that students should have the power to remove posts immediately. You suggest that I believe this is none of my business. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are suggesting a step forward. You may not like it, but it certainly does not represent disinterest. Is it an ideal solution? Absolutely not. Is it what I would ideally want? Absolutely not. It does, however, represent a sincere step forward shaped by the very real, serious limitations that you did not fully engage with in your blog post. Again I appreciate your blog post very much and would welcome the opportunity to talk with you or any other student about this issue.

Posted by: Eric Estes, Dean of Students on April 29, 2012 1:28 AM

You say that "There is no good in Obie Talk," and for the most part I agree with you. I will say, though, that it does provide a forum to receive anonymous advice and has been useful to me in that regard. It should be noted that there are also lots of other resources where Oberlin students can get such advice (Counseling Center, SIC, etc.), but when you're not ready to talk to someone face to face, it's nice to have the anonymity that ObieTalk and/or Oberlin Confessional provide(d).

I will also say that Will Adams-Keane is very good about taking posts down if requested, but the fact that the only way to remove a post is through him is a problem.

Posted by: '11 on April 29, 2012 1:48 AM

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your response. I am getting my information on the 'flagging' from the article published in the Oberlin Review two days ago. It reads: 'After a certain number of flags the post will be removed.' Perhaps the reporter was mistaken?

In any case, the problem with this suggestion is that it requires all Oberlin students to continue to actively engage with Obie Talk, in order to make sure that comments about them or their friends are removed. This may actually serve to increase the amount of hate speech, as those frequent users whose comments get deleted start to re-post comments in protest. It also means that students will still have to read the insults before they are deleted. This idea is far from a solution.

May I ask, what are the 'very real, serious limitations' that I have not acknowledged? I cannot see a higher priority for Oberlin than student inclusion and safety. As I said in my blog, the right to freedom of speech is dependent on identity, and does not apply in entirely anonymous situations.

Thanks again!

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 29, 2012 1:55 AM

Dear '11,
Regarding Obie Talk as a forum for anonymous advice: I have seen good examples of this, but just as many bad ones. Here is one that just came up:

Original commenter: 'spent the last hour silently crying in a public space by myself with no one around even realizing.'

Comment 3: oh no, people did realize that you were crying silently, they just didn't give a s***. You're not that important. F*** attention w***.
Comment 7: I hope the best for you, op. Let me know if you need to talk and I can post an email
Comment 8: #3 you suck. Have some compassion, there is little enough.

So, perhaps the original commenter got some support from this, but I maintain that even with the backlash that followed it, a comment such as #3 is enough to hurt someone. We shouldn't live in a community where someone in trouble asks for help, and has to risk getting a response like that. In such a situation, it is the vulnerable person who becomes the target.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 29, 2012 2:08 AM

You're absolutely right--there's a lot of bad on ObieTalk and it's not good that people have to weed through all that to get anything useful. I just wanted to say that, every once in a while, ObieTalk can be used for good.

Posted by: '11 on April 29, 2012 2:52 AM

I was reading this blog simply because I have a child who is a student at Oberlin and I am in another country lecturing at university and I wanted to read up on Oberlin.

What to say? I have been teaching in Asia where youth suicide rates are incredibly high. This is due to competition and failure to get into the proper universities and is also connected to image issues. Tweeting and postings about individuals is enough to send many over the edge here. Posters on Obietalk must realize that they absolutely contribute to the mental well-being of students they talk about, and that they also can be a catalyst for someone's misery. If it empowers someone to be disrespectful and abusive regarding another, that is the person who needs help. If one is of a sensitive nature and seeks acceptance from others, being on Obietalk is perhaps not for them, but being with a few good friends definitely is. Again, posters, be aware that you have an effect for good or for bad and the world is full of enough nonsense and shit for everyone that a positive contribution can be literally a life-saver. For those who feel victimized, go elsewhere. This is not for you.

Posted by: Michael on April 29, 2012 8:14 AM

I've had a lot of excellent conversations on ObieTalk, or seen them had, including ones that criticize the Oberlin administration, professors, and the way Oberlin markets itself to prospies (Albus the Squirrel, the Blogs, etc.), things that I, personally, wouldn't feel comfortable discussing without anonymity. There are lots of great conversations there, a lot of humor, a lot of genuine emotions, kindness, and Oberlin experiences that really couldn't be captured in any other way.

I'm not denying that there are terrible, awful things on ObieTalk. I've been spoken about on it, and it sucks to read things like that. I really think we do need a system to regulate what's been posted. Oberlin Confessional (I know. I'm old.) had a way of reporting and deleting posts quickly and efficiently.

I want ObieTalk to stay around, or some other anonymous, Oberlin-only message board. I think it's a good thing, or at least could be a good thing. I like the idea of student moderators--a big team of them, so bad posts could be eliminated quickly. But for students to be able to delete any post? That seems like it could get dangerous really quickly.

I think ObieTalk provides a service, and people abuse that service.

Posted by: Oberlin Student on April 29, 2012 3:12 PM

Thank you for posting this. I really appreciate someone speaking out against ObieTalk. Just to put a little more perspective on this issue, ObieTalk has only been around a for a few years (as you know). When I was a freshman (2007-2008 school year), the equivalent was Oberlin Confessional, or OCon. I don't know how long it was around before I got to Oberlin. It had the same anonymous preface, could only be used by those with oberlin.edu email addresses, and was used in very much the same way. Many people I love (including myself) were constantly being bullied on Oberlin Confessional. It got to the point where I just didn't go on it anymore because it made me so sad to see those things being said about me and the people I love. It prevented me from wanting to do my schoolwork, or anything else productive, for that matter; the hateful things being said were the only things on my mind for days.

I understand the reasoning for starting something like this in the first place. Asking anonymous advice about real issues and personal problems could be really helpful when there is nowhere else to turn, but this is not what Obies see as the purpose of the site. In fact, if anyone did post something really personal, asking for advice or whatnot, people would be really hateful about it and make fun of the person that even needs such help in the first place.

Again, thank you for posting this. Something needs to be done, and it is LONG overdue. I hope you can convince someone to do something about this.

Posted by: Jacquie, '11 on April 29, 2012 3:24 PM

Hey Ruby,

I think it's super great that you're bringing up ObieTalk on the Oberlin blogosphere, as it is something that desperately needs to be addressed on this campus. As you can probably tell from SlutBitchCrazy, I agree with you 100% about the awful, hateful mess that is ObieTalk. In addition to what happened that led to my involvement with SlutBitchCrazy, this year someone posted extremely violent things about my race as well as my partner's and my sexuality that almost made us leave campus and take police action.

However, I think it is important to remember that the faculty and administration is here to work with us and for us. We have to remember that, while we have our own ideas of what the administration should do to stop ObieTalk, things aren't always as simple as making them block the site. If it was a possibility, it would have absolutely already been done. I think moving forward, it's important to think about collaboration between the administration and students on this issue, which The Review article addressed rather well in my opinion.

Even though I also have some issues with the solution of having more students accessing the site to monitor it, I think it's better than continuing to ignore and accept the way the site operates currently on this campus. Until there is a better solution (because Oberlin actually does not have any legal power to remove the site), or Will Adams-Keane agrees to take it down, I think it is important to be as proactive as possible as an administration AND student body.

Posted by: Chinwe Okona '13 on April 29, 2012 3:34 PM

hi ruby!

i'm very, very glad you posted this blog. thank you for exposing obietalk in a public, accessible forum. i think everyone, especially people outside of oberlin, should know about this site and its implications.

i've had my own experiences with the site, which i will not dive into here; i will say, however, i have been targeted for my gender, orientation and my beliefs concerning equality (as far as gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc.).

as pres. krislov noted, a number of colleges and universities have similar sites, but i think that gives oberlin no excuse. we shouldn't look at similar colleges or schools to gauge ourselves in this matter; other things, like tuition and calendars, sure! but we're oberlin, and we should strive for excellence despite the injustices that occur elsewhere.

given the recent ruling in the ravi/clementi case at rutgers, (link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/16/dharun-ravi-guilty-of-invasion-of-privacy_n_1353616.html?ref=crime ) i think the administration has seriously considered legal implications of online bullying. the administration has also determined that no actionable offense can be taken by the college against the site, because the servers are privately owned and operated. adams-keane is only required to disclose ip's if the police subpoenas the information, which requires the victim of extremely threatening harassment or hate-speech to bring evidence to the police and then begin the discovery process and pursue legal action. pursuing legal action is sometimes not a possible course, either, given the historical racism, sexism and homophobia of the justice system in our societies, and the lack of protection petitioners have.

i'm particularly glad you provided a link to the Afrikana Community letter. as the letter points out, obietalk is primarily used to further racism and sexism; it's especially demeaning towards LGBTQ persons, people and communities of color, and women. given oberlin's claim to being the first college to admit african-americans and women (but wouldn't let them earn degrees or take classes with each other for years), oberlin, i think, should affirm their institutional, not just curricular, commitment to these communities.

again, thank you for this post.
-mandy hogan

Posted by: mandy hogan, class president of 2013 and student senator on April 29, 2012 3:47 PM

Hi, Ruby -

I definitely agree that ObieTalk can be a terrible place. Just like many of the commenters above, I have been targeted by hateful posts. According to anonymous posters, I am self-important, fat, ugly, loud, a pathological liar, and someone who ruins everything she touches.

However, I think it's pretty unfair to blame the administration for what goes on there. I especially am troubled by the fact that you misquoted Ben in your post. You sort of imply that President Krislov, Dean Estes, and other administrators don't care about the emotional well-being of students who have been hurt by ObieTalk - and that's NOT TRUE. It's time to challenge the ENTIRE Oberlin community to change how things work on this anonymous forum. Let's stop using the administration as a scapegoat.

Posted by: Helena Thompson '11 on April 29, 2012 4:31 PM

Hi everyone,

Thank you for your messages. I’m really sorry to hear about how long this has been going on, and what has been said on the site. But it’s great to get people talking about this.

I do hold the institution ultimately accountable for protecting the well-being of its students. Obie Talk has been active for three years. To my knowledge, students have protested it in the past, but nothing has changed. Of course, we as students have power, but it is not just up to us. And for the past three years, the administration has not acted.

When talking to President Krislov, he informed me that he felt change must come from the students. I’m sorry to say this, but it seems that the administration is using us, and our collective continued use of Obie Talk, as the real scapegoat here. I’ve heard people say that Obie Talk is only active because we, the students, keep engaging with it. I don’t think that this is the right attitude to take, when the question is one of student safety.

We cannot ignore the fact that Adams-Keane must be held responsible for his lack of moderation of his own website, which has allowed students to repeatedly come under threat. This website is under Oberlin’s name, and is exclusively for Oberlin students. It is a misuse of the Oberlin College community, and it is bullying. The bottom line is, bullying should not be tolerated.

Perhaps a well-run anonymous message board could work, but why should Oberlin collaborate with Will Adams-Keane on this, as they seem to be trying to do? As is clear in his recent interview for the Oberlin Review, he does not acknowledge the problems his system creates, and seems to want to sabotage the whole thing when he leaves by revealing everyone’s identities. If this was a joke on his part, it was a very bad one.

I think that there should be a discussion into whether an anonymous support group is indeed what all students here would like to have. If it is, then Oberlin should set up its own, new, student-led anonymous forum, and begin with all of the right regulations already in place. It really is time to put an end to this and start again, on the right foot.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 29, 2012 5:17 PM

"I’m sorry to say this, but it seems that the administration is using us, and our collective continued use of Obie Talk, as the real scapegoat here."

Wait, really? I think that's ridiculous. Oberlin students' collective continued use of ObieTalk isn't being used as a scapegoat - it's the actual issue!

I'm just going to come out and say this (repeat this?) - it's incredibly sophomoric to sit here and point fingers at these hard-working members of the Oberlin administration (and Will Adams-Keane, for that matter) for a problem that they *have no control over*. Will isn't responsible for the things people post. Ben Jones, Marvin Krislov, and Eric Estes also are not responsible for the existence of an unaffiliated website, nor are they responsible for anything posted on said site. I'm far from coming up with a perfect solution to the ObieTalk problem, but I am POSITIVE that disgruntled students looking at administrators and expecting them to solve every little issue that plagues the community is far from it.

So, yeah, Ruby - your job isn't to sell Oberlin to prospective students. Your job is to talk about about your Oberlin experience, yes. But maybe you should consider exploring multiple sides of a complicated and nuanced discussion of campus issues before trash-talking Ben, Eric, Marvin, and Will on the internet. 'Cause, as you state in your original blog post, all it takes is one comment to deeply hurt someone's feelings.

Posted by: Helena Thompson '11 on April 29, 2012 6:44 PM

Ruby, like everyone else I applaud you for taking the time to write this and agree with your thoughts on ObieTalk. But the administration has nothing to do with this, nor does it have the power to block or delete a private server. Realistically speaking, the only person who can take this down is Will Adams-Keane and even if he did, I have no doubt that a similar site would pop up in the blink of an eye. Freedom of speech isn't conditional on anonymity. As a student community we need to accept that we allowed this forum to thrive as a cesspool of sexism, racism, you-name-it-ism and overall hate-speech.

Posted by: Ruby Saha on April 29, 2012 6:45 PM

Hey Ruby,

Oberlin definitely has a dark side and I just want to commend you for putting it out in the open. Oberlin was and still is my dream school, but I think prospective students need to know that there are still problems on campus, problems not always talked about openly.

Posted by: Michelle Johnson '15 on April 29, 2012 6:52 PM

Your authoritarian tendencies are troubling. You talk a great deal about the 'harm' of Obietalk, but no one is forcing students to access or read it. Nasty, hateful things can be written, but the only thing keeping the site alive (like Oberlin Confidential before it) is the continual desire of students to become anonymous: not only to write, but with the curiosity to see what is written about them and those around them. It isn't the role of the administration to police private websites (and even if they wanted to, they would almost certainly have no legal standing to try to force the issue), and a safe environment isn't created through silencing voices, no matter how provocative they may be.

Posted by: Student on April 29, 2012 7:00 PM

Asking for Will Adams-Keane's apologies is completely unnecessary and won't fix anything. What goes on obie talk is not at all his fault, he has simply created a chat forum for people to express their views, it's (part of) our community that is to be blamed as they are the ones turning his neutral forum into a place of hatred. Also, what Eric Estes said is totally understandable and very well thought. To get the administration involved in our social affairs opens the gates for them to monitor and police other things that they have no business dealing with. Then, later another like you will create a blog about how Oberlin's administration is too involved in our personal affairs and we'll simply teeter-totter back and forth.

To empower us to fix this problem ourselves will ultimately make us a better community capable of tackling bigger problems.

I think it's great what you've done to make the community more aware of this problem but you're also harshly blaming and targeting the wrong people. It's not the administration or the creator or Marvin Krislov's fault, it's our fault and as well as the people who surround us. It isn't their responsibility to change what individuals of our community are doing whether it be 5 people at the source or 1,000... it's ours and you've done a great job at helping us begin.

Posted by: lookatmei'manonymous on April 29, 2012 7:11 PM

Thank you for your candid and personal account of Oberlin's online underbelly. What concerns me most as an alum is the racism and targeted hatred that is apparently lurking all over campus. I was shocked to read the Afrikana Community response—I had no idea it was that bad.

I am not sure what can be done, if anything, to regulate ObieTalk itself. I've always thought if it as a place of junior high-style cattiness and gossip. But apparently it has evolved beyond "I don't see what the fuss about Kat Lee is—she has no boobs" (I'm paraphrasing, but, true story!) into a safe place for deeply hateful rhetoric against specific cultural/racial/sexual groups. Why would people with that kind of targeted rage even want to go to Oberlin? It baffles me.

Stay strong, Oberlin. I do think that there are a few hateful voices speaking against MANY students who desire a campus community rooted in safety, diversity, and compassion. The louder the latter group becomes, the more foolish the former will feel. My advice is that those who believe the forum is a source of negativity should boycott it completely. The fewer the number of people who read the comments, the less power they have. I believe the best way to respond to them is publicly, as Ruby has, rather than responding on the forum with another anonymous post. A personal response really humanizes the effects of the hateful language. It's much harder to stomach when we give the person being bullied a face and a voice

Try to stay compassionate and remember that hate stems from fear. If you are involved in campus activities and groups, and too busy within your community to be posting nasty things about other people online, I guarantee you are a happier individual than the person who is sitting alone in their dorm room spouting hateful words behind a cyber curtain. For every bit of negative, hateful energy they send out online, the positive, accepting energy you put into the real world counts tenfold.

Posted by: Kat Lee '11 on April 29, 2012 7:24 PM

Yes, ObieTalk has some serious problems, and you've done a great job detailing them. However, I want to add my voice to those saying that it is not the administration's fault or responsibility. The troubling thing to me is not that the administration isn't doing anything about this--and they are trying to come up with a reasonable solution--but that we have a community where people feel comfortable posting such hateful things on the internet. It's deeply disturbing to me that Oberlin students are capable of such hate speech, "troll" or otherwise. It seems to me that the only way to affect change is therefore to have it come from the students themselves.

Posted by: Anonymous on April 29, 2012 7:35 PM

Ruby Turok-Squire,
I think that I have been misrepresented in this post. I in no way object to Obietalk's existence, and think that you are asking the administration to do something that, in my eyes, is much worse than allowing Obietalk to continue functioning.

Censoring Obietalk will not end the existence of gossip and hate speech on this campus. If the hate speech posted is truly hate speech, I'd rather be aware that such opinions existed on this campus than pretend that this school is a perfectly accepting place. As a queer student, I recall being shocked the first time that I saw anti-gay hate speech on the website. I assumed that most students at Oberlin would be more aligned to my understanding of these issues. But I am still glad that I did see it, as if I hadn't, I would still be unawaredly assuming that this was a safe campus for that aspect of my identity.

Asking the administration to make stronger the censors that our already in place over our internet access is, to me, a far more concerning possibility than allowing a site to continue existing. As others have said in response, we give Obietalk power by continuing to visit it. If the student body did not want it to exist, they would demonstrate it by ceasing their use of it.

I'm not going to read back through what I have written, so I apologize for any grammatical/syntactical/spelling errors.

Posted by: Abraham Rowe on April 29, 2012 7:54 PM

Whether you want it or not, there is nothing illegal about Obietalk and it will continue to exist. The federal government, no less a private college, is not in a position to do anything about it. There is nothing illegal going on.

If Obietalk was somehow shut down, an identical website would surely pop up. There is a demand for this kind of website and should, and will, be met.

If Obietalk is bad, I believe that the best thing for you to do is to stop talking about it or find some way to get people to stop using it. All of these prospies are now interested in Obietalk and will surely check it out as soon as they get to campus in August.

Yes, Obietalk contains hateful speech, gossip, and all that. I've seen people try to sell drugs on it. I've also seen depressed people reach out for help and receive it.

I have had extremely meaningful discussions about this college that would have not happened anywhere else. In addition to what has previously been mentioned, Obietalk fosters important dialogue. An anonymous medium is important. Speakers of revolutionary ideas can tell others without worry of being ostracized.

I know this response is disjointed. There are just some points that need to be made.

Posted by: Freshman on April 29, 2012 7:56 PM

Ruby--thank you for writing this. It needed to be done. I kind of touched on it in some blog my freshman year, I think; you have tackled it head-on, and I admire you for it. I'm glad that this is coming out here, in the Review, and in organized discussions. (I hope it's also coming out in personal conversations, though I haven't noticed any...) I think it's long overdue.

There's no easy answer: if everyone who dislikes ObieTalk ignores it, personal attacks and hate speech won't automatically stop. It's not like they'll know their target is gone, for one thing, and for another, the person being abused may not even be the target audience. People aren't necessarily making these attacks with the assumption that the people they're discussing are reading it; I think it's equally likely they're trying to impress or engage with other people on the site, following the norms of a poisonous environment. But what they say can still impact people's views of the person in question, and harm them.

But here is what I really want to say: I don't think there's a "scapegoat" in this at all; I think there's an issue that we have all as a community been too timid to address for far too long.

Oberlin is very proud of its liberalism and neither the students nor the administration wish to appear to be meddling with a private website or a forum for public speech. And, to some degree, I think people are actually uncertain if interfering with ObieTalk is morally right. This is an element of our entire generation (generation roughly defined as mid-80s on; studies have actually shown this): we don't like to say that things are wrong. We know everyone is a special individual with their own values and beliefs and it's not cool to judge people by our standards. Then we internalize this and apply it when we shouldn't. We tend to avoid appearing narrow-minded or controlling, to let things slide when we're uncertain, to say, "Well, I don't approve, but whatever floats your boat." Oberlin officials, being around Oberlin kids, seem to have adopted this and taken it to an extreme because they also have to be concerned about public image and liability issues.

Beyond that, I understand the unwillingness of the student body at large to make an end to the site, especially if they have followed gossip or asked about a crush or posted something indiscreet there: it's facing up to some degree of guilt and that is not comfortable.

Furthermore, beginning with my year, students have not known Oberlin without ObieTalk and presumably have settled into fairly stable patterns of dealing with it as a fact of life (ignoring it and being ignored by it, lurking but not posting, posting on certain topics--whatever). Removing it might seem either largely irrelevant, requiring too much effort, or unnecessary to those unaffected by it.

So: nobody's a scapegoat here, because all the groups being called "scapegoats" do bear some responsibility. This is a problem that has suddenly gained more public attention, a problem in which everyone has some degree of interest. Everyone should have taken action earlier. (I include myself in this; ObieTalk kind of freaked me out as a freshman and I just ignored it and gradually acclimated somewhat to the idea of it. I should have acted on my first reaction; I didn't. I hope I'm not alone in feeling this way.)

Posted by: Tess on April 29, 2012 8:02 PM

I think you're missing a point: If you don't want to read offensive things about either individuals or groups, then don't go on ObieTalk. If you don't like what is said on ObieTalk, again, just don't use the site. Whining and crying like a little child isn't going to change the fact that the Administration isn't "scape-goating" the students, that you need tissues in order to get through reading the contents of an anonymous message board, and the fact that the notion of you meeting with Krislov about ObieTalk "ruining" the reputation of Oberlin is one of the most absurd pieces of reading material I've encountered in my entire life.... Asking the administration to sensor certain types of speech will NOT make the sentiments behind that speech disappear, it will simply cause the individuals of that mindset to channel their venom another way...

Posted by: Matt Alden on April 29, 2012 8:13 PM

Hi everyone,

Perhaps I am too idealistic, in not wanting to blame the entire Oberlin student community for what goes on on Obie Talk. But I actually think that it is a small group of students who post negative comments on the site. It is not all of our faults. Most of us already agree that it is awful.

The entire point of this is to help people see that they can stand up against online bullying. I am surprised at how accepting some of the previous commenters seem to be, with regards to themselves being bullied online. I don’t think we should accept it. Colleges do have the legal responsibility to protect their students from foreseeable harm. Students can’t do this alone. Institutional regulations do not have to be violations of freedom – they can protect us too. I think that our college should be doing something to make sure that the online Oberlin community is a safe place. I do not blame Oberlin students as a whole for this website – I think that would be unfair, because most of us play no active part in it, and I know that our community is a caring one.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 29, 2012 8:23 PM

Hi Ruby,

As the other people have stated, I think it's great that you've candidly and courageously and approached a campus issue. Your blog entry might catalyze some community change for the better.

However I also disagree with the idea that Will Adams-Keane or the administration should be held guilty for it. The difference between bullying and Obietalk is that going on Obietalk is a completely voluntary action--one that is independent of receiving an education at Oberlin. There is no one forcing us to type www.obietalk.com into our browsers. We are not being victimized, and we should be careful of using that word lightly.

Will Adams-Keane is providing a medium of communication. Some people are choosing to use both this service and their freedom of speech in a gross and apathetic manner. But the webmaster of Obietalk cannot and should not be held guilty for that fact. The only people that should be held guilty are the commenters themselves and the rest of the Obietalk-using student body for not attempting to deal with the nasty comments. The assumption is that if we tried to do something about the nasty posting, we might be able to decrease its impact. Simply asserting that "our community is caring" is not enough to relinquish that responsibility and is in fact demonstrative of the issue here.

In this regard, a student-led petition (or just personal appeals to Will Adams-Keane) for an inappropriate-post flagging system might be a good start to remedying the situation--a way for people who care about the potential community-wide effects of certain posts (e.g. racist or homophobic "trolling") to have their voices heard without "bumping" the post so everyone has to read it.

Posted by: Alex Riordan on April 29, 2012 8:55 PM

Hey RUBY i completely agree with you -- obietalk and everyone thats a part of it SUCKS!!! AND THEY DESERVE TO FUCKING DIE!!!!!!!!!! OH AND I THINK NATIVE AMERICANS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR 9/11 AND THAT WHITE PEOPLE ARE FUCKING UGLY

wait a second, i'm not on obietalk.... how could i say such a thing? oh yeah, im on the INTERNET and the freedom to say whatever you want is inherent not just to obietalk but the internet itself. sure this comment might be moderated, but so too will comments on obietalk once there is a panel of moderators

Posted by: Ron on April 29, 2012 9:05 PM

If Obietalk is shut down I will personally create another version of it and there will be 0 moderation and 100% free speech.

Posted by: James Deen on April 29, 2012 9:08 PM

I would like to hop in briefly to reiterate what Ron said: we do have the capability to moderate comments on the Oberlin blogs. Please don't make us do so, because we would like to continue this conversation openly, as a part of this post and beyond. Keep it civil, folks.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on April 29, 2012 9:27 PM


I'm sorry but I'm having trouble continuing to follow your argument. You don't want to blame the entire student body, but we all know about ObieTalk, most of us have read it at sometime, and who knows how many of us have posted on it. Yet you want to blame the administration? That absolutely does not make sense to me.

Even further, in my opinion is it completely inappropriate for you to make any judgements about whether or not people are accepting of things that have been said about them on ObieTalk. I'm not here to make judgements about your experiences, but speaking from my experiences, the reality of the world is that people are racist, sexist, homophobic, heteronormative, etc. No matter who I ask to remove ObieTalk, the world is going to be a place where these systems of oppression exist. That doesn't make me accepting of anything, I simply refuse to spend my entire academic career dwelling on what people are saying about me. When I enter society, people are going to say things about me no matter how well I present myself.

Oberlin College absolutely owes it to us to protect us from harm. However, it doesn't not fall under the jurisdiction of the college to shelter us from stupidity, ignorance, and things we don't like. We can joke about entering the real world about graduating, but this is the real world. Oberlin does not take the place of our parents in our lives, this is the stage when we start to navigate how to deal with things, including adversity as adults. All Oberlin owes us is an excellent, fair education, both academically and socially. And that's exactly what we're getting.

Posted by: Chinwe Okona '13 on April 29, 2012 10:01 PM

Obietalk was established when the previous anonymous forum, Oberlin Confessional, was taken down. Taking down this website won't change anything, a new one would be created. Instead, we as students must stop looking the other way or blaming someone else, and look at ourselves. We are the ones who create the content of this site, and we need to take some responsibility for that. It is easy to assume the administration doesn't care, but it's unfair to place the blame solely on them. As a student body, we have generated the demand for this forum and written the awful things you've seen, and the worst part is that nobody made us do any of this.

Oberlin students are notoriously independent. Having college officials monitor every comment posted on that website would be a sure way to shut down use of it, but also an invitation to someone to establish the new version of obietalk away from the college officials. It's an ineffective and inefficient use of time and college resources. Instead, as has been suggested in other comments, we need to open up a real discourse about these topics and hold ourselves and our peers to higher standards. Nobody has forced anybody to post hatred on that site, and the fact that we feel so compelled to do so is not the administration's fault. I agree that work can be done to remove that hatred, but let's not pretend that we aren't the ones who created it.

Obietalk, and similar forums, have the capacity for good. When I prospied here, my host went on OCon and asked people what she should take her prospie to do. I got suggestions from across campus and nobody tailored them based on what I looked like or what they knew of me from the 30-second encounter they got with a shell-shocked prospie. Honest discourse about issues within the college can take place in a setting like this, and the anonymity allows for a breakdown of power politics, which can permit people to talk about things that need to be talked about when fear of repercussions would normally stop them from speaking out. Professors cannot grade you down for what you say about them, for example.

I won't deny that Obietalk has been use for cyberbullying and that that element of the site needs to be shut down about two and a half years ago, but potential positive uses for anonymity do exist, and denying them is pointless. One of my very best friends was bullied on obietalk extensively, and even knowing the identities of the people posting things about her didn't help. Anonymity may help with bullying, but hatred exists whether there is a name attached to it or not. Ultimately, we need to develop enough respect for each other to understand that while we can hurt someone with our words, they don't deserve it. As a community we need to stop believing that we understand people enough to pass judgement on them, and instead work on either learning to understand others, or learning to admit that we don't know the whole story.

Also, on a related note, I hope you sometime really get the chance to talk to Dean Estes. He took on his position this past summer, and has worked nearly nonstop since then to make some very positive changes to the school using student input. He has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty to help people, and saying that he doesn't care about the students at this school is not only untrue, but is perhaps the worst insult you could throw at him. He is a rare kind of person who can maintain his passion while looking at things critically and rationally. He has worked very hard to get student input on mental health issues on campus and to help RAs learn better to respond to crises and have better resources to turn to. As an RA, he has also personally assisted me in mental health issues I've faced in my community and myself. I would hope that before you label him as uncaring, you find the time to sit down and talk to him with an open mind, because I genuinely believe that you will find that he is one of the most compassionate people on this campus.

Posted by: Chelsea Arata on April 29, 2012 10:08 PM

Hi Ruby, just wanted to make clear that I had no "intention of injury" at all when I made that last comment in the Review article. You're right that I was joking, but the reason I said it was to make people pause for a second and think about what nasty things they may have posted in the past. In an anonymous setting there is only self-accountability, and I was trying to provoke people to consider this by making the statement I did.

I'm very emphatic towards anyone who has been hurt or offended by posts on ObieTalk, and really don't like that it has been used in that way. I think there's a lot of good that can come from anonymous discussion, but I also understand that there will always be a potential for abuse. I spent my winter term developing a system which would automatically filter posts containing the names of college students and identify how negative the sentiment of a post was. I didn't have time to finish and implement it (I'm hoping that will happen early this summer), but I think any solution which wouldn't sacrifice the anonymity of the site but could cut down on the bad stuff would be better than completely shutting down the site.

Also, understand that were Obietalk to be shut down then another site with similar functionality (such as Ocon) would be used instead. That's exactly what happened last year when Obietalk was down for the better half of second semester. Oberlin College blocking Obietalk would result in the same thing happening (and would set a precedent for College-sponsored censorship of the internet). I do my absolute best to remove posts when people ask me to, and I think a panel of moderators will be effective in pro-activity monitoring the site so that I won't have to be asked (after the damage has already been done).

Posted by: Will Adams-Keane on April 29, 2012 10:27 PM

in response to matt's comment, "Whining and crying like a little child
isn't going to change the fact that the Administration isn't
"scape-goating" the students, that you need tissues in order to get
through reading the contents of an anonymous message board, and the
fact that the notion of you meeting with Krislov about ObieTalk
"ruining" the reputation of Oberlin is one of the most absurd pieces of
reading material I've encountered in my entire life...."

i find it completely unacceptable to belittle others for expressing
concern and emotions about threats, especially threats to sexually
abuse them. affective responses are both understandable and valuable,
especially when posts concerning that undermine one's self and

Posted by: Anonymous on April 30, 2012 12:11 AM

Hello, Ruby,

I don't think I could express my opinion on Obietalk and the administration any better than Chinwe has, but I think we're leaving out a huge element in this discussion: trolling. I don't agree with or find homophobic/racist/generally bigoted and hurtful language especially humorous. There are, however, a lot of people who do. In our tech-savvy (I hate myself for using that term) generation, internet anonymity and trolling are parts of our culture. These hateful words have only as much power as we give them, especially when their authors are more interested in the responses these words will incur than their own message.

Again, I don't necessarily approve of this phenomenon, but it's here to stay. The world can be a cold, hateful place; shutting down or censoring internet forums won't make it any less so. Oberlin has a million other ways of making people feel alienated and excluded, I don't know why we focus on the most meaningless one.

I haven't been personally targeted on Obietalk, so I feel conflicted telling people to get over it, but I'm going to do it anyways. If you have been targeted on an online forum, please please please don't let yourself drown in the sea of nonsense and stupidity on the internet. It's so meaningless and not worth your pain.

Anyways, thanks for bringing this up, Ruby
It's nice to finally have a serious dialogue on Obietalk.

Have a good week, everyone.

Posted by: Daniel Demyan on April 30, 2012 12:46 AM

Thank you.

Posted by: Alex Spatzier on April 30, 2012 12:47 AM

Thank you once again, everyone, for the continued discussion here. It is great to see that people are starting to put forward their views on this matter in a public space, and I definitely think that we can all learn a lot from each other's views. It is, as Tess insightfully explained, 'an issue that we have all as a community been too timid to address for far too long.'

I will address several new criticisms of my own viewpoint, made by individuals:

Chinwe, you are right that we do not know how many people use Obie Talk, in varying capacities, but I maintain that it is only the bullying and hate speech that is the problem, because it threatens student health and safety. I know many students who do not engage with the site at all, and some who simply read it occasionally, which, while providing an audience for the bullies, is not the real origin of the problem. As others have said, this origin lies in each person's social and moral values. But I am unwilling to blame our community as a whole for the destructive action of a few individuals.

You say that it is 'inappropriate for [me] to make any judgements about whether or not people are accepting of things that have been said about them on ObieTalk'. It is not assuming anything to say that homophobic and racist abuse, and violent or sexual threats are bad. I do not believe that anyone should be accepting of these things. You go on to say, 'the world is going to be a place where these systems of oppression exist.' I never expected to hear this at Oberlin, which is a place of such forward-thinking. There is never a reason to accept hatred or bullying as being inevitable in the world, and consequently to not take action against them.

Chelsea, I just want to make it clear that I have not accused any individual member of the administration of not caring for the students. I said that as a whole, the Oberlin administration has not acted on the issue of Obie Talk for years, and this is why it seems that they do not properly acknowledge it.

Although many of the comments here so far have been written by those who advocate free speech in anonymity without exception and no college regulation, I would not necessarily assume that this is the majority opinion. Every student that I talk to in person about Obie Talk expresses a very different opinion, much closer to my own. Otherwise, I would never have written the blog. I have also had many emails of support from individuals who decided not to post on the blog. It seems that the students who support strict online anti-bullying regulation are not as vocal as those who do not, probably because they are less involved with Obie Talk themselves.

There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation in the comments that I have read, and they have at times degenerated into personal attacks and abuse, which is exactly what we see every day on Obie Talk. For this reason, and because many of these comments are anonymous, we cannot assume that they represent the full range of student views. I think that we must establish a real-life forum for discussion to gauge this, and to allow us all to learn from each other's experiences and ideas.

I am bowing out of the discussion at this point, because I feel that I have said what needed to be said, and it is up to us as a community now to make a change.

Posted by: Ruby Turok-Squire '16 on April 30, 2012 12:50 AM

This conversation is very useful and important, and I am glad that people are beginning to find ways to productively share intense feelings about this website that has the ability to affect our community so deeply. It is my opinion that we should not seek to place blame on Will or the Oberlin administration, nor maintain the false belief that the harmful comments on the site stem from a small group of ignorant or uncaring students. We all belong to the Oberlin community and we all share equally in creating that community, be it in person or anonymously over the internet.

As one of the creators of the video SLUT/BITCH/CRAZY, I would like to clarify the thought behind our movie. Although I cannot speak for the other authors, I did not intend for the movie to be a vilification of the site itself. What I find most terrifying and fascinating about Obietalk is that it gives people the ability to inhabit any personality or hold any belief, to try on a host of identities free from judgement. The fact that so many people choose to explore hurtful and scary opinions is representative of aspects of our community that are hurtful and scary. We should not shy away from that fact. But what I think is most important to realize, and what I think our movie seeks to explain, is that there are people behind the computer screens, with feelings and emotions--people who have both the ability to hurt others and to be hurt. By focusing on censorship or by trying to assign blame, we are minimizing what I perceive to be the worst parts of our community, and those which deserve the most openness and thoughtfulness.

Posted by: Grace Harvey on April 30, 2012 1:11 AM

Oberlin '09 here. For those who are curious about the history of anonymous forums at Oberlin: A couple of people mentioned the now-defunct Oberlin Confessional. But as far as I know, this all started with a post on the (now mostly ignored) Oberlin livejournal community. It was 2005, and someone posted a thread asking for anonymous confessions. You can comment anonymously on livejournal. So OCon, and Obietalk, have all sprung from that, which was probably inspired by the website PostSecret.

Oberlin students are not children. When you're an adult (and even when you're a kid), there isn't much you can do to stop people from saying terrible things about you, especially on the internet. I somehow avoided getting hate from Oberlin Confessional, but post-Oberlin, my name has appeared on hate blogs and Encyclopedia Dramatica. Why? I reposted something on my tumblr that was written by someone with a lot of enemies, blogger Lena Chen. They'd been harassing her for years, leaving hateful comments on her blog, outing her boyfriend's identity and contacting his employers, disseminating nude pictures an ex-boyfriend had posted. But because that didn't shut her up, they started going after her blog readers.

When you google my name, sites with hateful words and slander show up, along with personal information about me, like my name, places I've worked and where I went to school. Other people had pictures of STDs show up when they googled their names. The words don't hurt me, but I have to hope that potential employers and other people I want to impress won't google me, or won't take these things seriously if they do.

There is no legal recourse that any of us can take, because we don't know who these people are. Believe me, I did try at first, I reported the sites to their blog hosts, to Google, I tried to cyber-stalk the editor of the ED article to see if I could sleuth out his identity through his internet footprint. (I didn't try to edit the article, fearing retaliation.) I can't hold Blogger or Google legally responsible for the content (or even ED, now that's it's hosted in Switzerland.) The only thing I can do is try to create other sites with my name on it and make them more popular than the offending ones.

Hopefully Will can get some more effective moderation going. And I think the administration's appropriate role in this has been pretty well covered by others. But mostly you need to look at it as a wake-up call that Oberlin is not as perfect as you think, and that you all need to work on making it a more tolerant place WITHOUT resorting to censorship (which doesn't tend to work.) Obietalk is only a reflection of the problems in the community, and I think the article by the Oberlin Afrikana Community articulated some of those problems. You can't dismiss those problems as coming from one website, or a small group of evildoers - it's a small school, you've met some of those people.

Posted by: Hillary on April 30, 2012 1:58 AM

Hi Ruby,

Thanks for writing this article and adding to the ongoing dialogue concerning obietalk, freedom of expression, unacceptable expression, anonymity, etcetera. Many important things have been discussed in the comment section already, however I feel that most are missing the main point:

There are people here - at a school that is regarded as progressive and has historically been involved in positive social change of all sorts - that feel the need to express hateful and sometimes violent things toward individuals, groups of a certain skin color, sexual orientation, or geographic heritage. Why are they here? Why are they anywhere in the world? What is the root of their hatred? Can their opinions/thoughts/actions be changed?

Hateful individuals are the driver in the vehicle that is ObieTalk. ObieTalk simply allows these people to project their negative views onto more people, more quickly. Likewise, ObieTalk allows many positive and productive conversations to happen quickly as well. It's quite useful at times!

Obietalk's existence does NOT change the root of the problem.

Cheers and flowers and sine tones,

Posted by: Darrin Schultz on April 30, 2012 2:52 AM

Thank you for the post. It was enlightening if nothing else. As a first-year, I stumbled across obietalk around my third week of classes. I spent about a week overly obsessed with it and spending too much of my time watching the variations of hate, humor, irony, advice and love flit around the internet. And then I did something you don't seem to address as a possibility.
I got off Obietalk.
Now I mentally comprehend (I can't say that I know, because my emotions don't get it), why someone would be drawn to obietalk. Finding out what people are saying about you is always interesting, if not sometimes useful or actually necessary. However, we are all individuals and, should we choose to, no one is actively forcing us to use obietalk.
This is not a perfect treatment and nor is it a perfect solution- people will still post hatred and ignorance, but at the end of the day it is your active choice to go to obietalk and try to find that post with your name in it. If you don't like what's on obietalk, then don't go on it. That, I believe, would be square one.

Understanding that this does not eliminate the problem, I think that you paint the picture bleaker than it actually is. I've seen a lot of hatred and stupidity on Obietalk, as per the internet in general, but I've also seen a lot of support and love. It is up to each person which they emphasize more- the love they see or the hate they read- but I feel each of them has a place. Also, I would bet the administration has its hands tied by however many things in the Oberlin charter or rules that protect free speech, whether they like it or not. If they actively ran Obietalk, that would be a different story. But they don't, so I believe the dean that there are pieces of information relevant to this topic that we are not fully informed about.

Regardless, Obietalk can be a monster or a blessing, but the element of free will in the matter makes it considerably more acceptable to me.

Posted by: Nathaniel Hedges-Goettl on April 30, 2012 7:47 AM

"If someone tells you, 'you are too weak to live with freedom', they have turned you into a child."

Upon first read, I found this post condescending, and I found your treatment of Will Adams-Keane to be in poor taste. As to the former[1], after reading the comments and taking some time to think about the positions you've taken, I've come to the conclusion that you must simply be misunderstanding the legal and cultural contexts of the problem, and people, you're attempting to address. At least, this seems to fit with Dean Estes' reference to your lack of acknowledgment of "very real, serious limitations" in how the community and administration can and should respond.

You need to be more culturally sensitive! Calling for the forceful censorship of a tool that extends and improves our ability to express ourselves and communicate simply because some people can't choose not to expose themselves to unpleasant content isn't going to be very successful. You made a reference to how things would be handled in England, with the implication that how this situation might be handled in England is how things should or could work here. But the fact that this isn't England is far from irrelevant. Oberlin is in the United States, and in the United States there has been a legacy of individualism and anti-authoritarianism in the culture since its beginning, and it's likely a bit stronger, and manifests itself in different ways, than what you're used to. In the United States, speech which would, in other countries (including England), be considered illegal hate speech, is often culturally tolerated[2], and almost always legally protected. Productive endeavors and pioneering accomplishments are held in the highest regard. Self-control and restraint, particularly when reacting to unpleasant, unfamiliar, or otherwise confusing people and ideas, is generally encouraged. So, while I'm sure there are some people who fully agree with you, I sincerely doubt that the majority of the community does. Most of us probably agree with your intention, in so far as you wish everyone a pleasant life free of hate, as most of us are good and kind people. But most of us are American. Most of the faculty and staff are American. And we love our liberties. Don't underestimate the hold that a culture can have on a people[3].

If this post were merely an explanation and warning for prospective students about these sites, and not an appeal for authoritative censorship, I would have found no issue with it. Maybe you could have provided suggestions to help individual students move on, and documented what resources exist on campus to help handle the feelings and situations that may surface after exposing yourself to disagreeable material such as that which may be found on these sites? Both the counseling center and dialogue center come to mind.

[1]: I continue to find your condemnation of Mr. Adams-Keane to be completely unnecessary and unproductive.
[2]: Tolerated. Not encouraged, but tolerated.
[3]: Coffee is still vastly preferred to tea here, despite the fact that tea is so wonderfully delicious, because of a grudge we held against England more than two centuries ago.

Disclaimer: Although I have been a staff member at Oberlin College, it is not in that capacity that I am posting this comment. Also, it should go without saying that I intend no harm or disrespect, simply disagreement. I have respect for, and faith in, all people, and I sincerely thank you for sharing your perspective and hope you continue to do so.

Posted by: Joseph Spiros on April 30, 2012 7:48 AM

When I first found out about Obietalk, I found it really upsetting. I thought Oberlin was an accepting community, but Obietalk is all about bullying. Now, what I find upsetting isn't the fact that Obietalk exists-- it's the fact that the administration isn't shutting it down when they have the power to do so.

Yes, I understand that if Obietalk gets shut down another similar site will pop up. But that doesn't mean the administration should ever accept that these sites exist. If the administration has the power to shut down Obietalk and aren't, then they are supporting it.

Unlike Ruby, I don't feel comfortable attaching my name to this post. I don't think what I've said is particularly controversial, but I worry that if someone disagrees I could end up on Obietalk too. That's the kind of atmosphere Obietalk creates; one where people are always scared that they'll be next.

Posted by: ....................... on April 30, 2012 8:38 AM

'I am bowing out of the discussion at this point, because I feel that I have said what needed to be said, and it is up to us as a community now to make a change.'

This is hilarious, considering you think the student body isn't the blame and it's up to the administration and Will Adams-Keane to correct and apologize for ObieTalk.

You're entitled to you opinions, but don't think it's in any way your right to tell me or anyone they've been accepting of anything foul that's said about them. I don't know anything about you, but until you've figured out how systems of oppression work in this country and until you've been the victim of systematic oppression in this country, I'm tell you that have absolutely no right to say a simple word in the least to me about being accepting of anything.

I was born and raised in a country that has historically paved its way on a foundation of racism. 2012 or not, racism existed and still exists. If I spent my entire life standing on a soapbox screaming at everyone who ever said anything negative about my race, I would not be here right now. I would be a screaming black woman on a soapbox, living up the age old stereotype of black women in this country. My entire existence is stone-cold proof of the fact that I refuse to accept ANYTHING, anyone has ever said about my race or my capabilities because of my race. I am educated, successful, and smart enough to know that being such makes any claims that black people/people of color are lazy, stupid, or worthless, absolutely false. When you have lived it, you can define 'acceptance' any way you would like. Until then, don't be ignorant and undermine my life, my 21 years of proof of nothing but resistance.

As for the fact that you're surprised this is happening at Oberlin, because we're "forward thinking"--forward thing? Maybe. Probably. Utopia? Absolutely not. Far from it. People have opinions, and you're not going to agree with every one of them. EVEN at Oberlin. If you want utopia, stay in your room, avoid all contact with the outside world, and read Dr. Seuss over and over again.

Posted by: Chinwe Okona '13 on April 30, 2012 10:32 AM

So because people post things that you do not particularly care for, they should be silenced and the venue through which they post said posts should be carefully monitored and possibly even shut down? With that logic, because I do not particularly care for what YOU are writing in this blog post (nor do many other people care for it) you should be silenced and your blog should be monitored so that nothing you say can potentially offend anyone...

Posted by: Matt Alden on April 30, 2012 11:20 AM


"You go on to say, 'the world is going to be a place where these systems of oppression exist.' I never expected to hear this at Oberlin, which is a place of such forward-thinking. There is never a reason to accept hatred or bullying as being inevitable in the world, and consequently to not take action against them."

Just because you want Oberlin to be a perfect place, doesn't mean that it is. Furthermore, it definitely doesn't mean that the rest of the world doesn't exist!! Seriously, those "systems of oppression" really do exist. As Oberlin students, many of us believe that those systems of oppression should not exist. But most of us understand that they DO. Yes, we're in the Oberlin bubble, but that doesn't mean we can let down our guards and expect to relax and have no one say anything against us or the people we care about for four years straight. It sucks, but it's a fact of life.

I see that you are class of '16, so perhaps you just need some time to learn. I wish you luck.

Posted by: Anonymous 2013 on April 30, 2012 11:34 AM

I am someone who positions herself on both sides of the ocean, and holds a passport from the US and the UK. I was educated in the US but have lived in the UK for many years now. Reading this discussion makes me very sad to see how things have developed in the US. That a place such as Oberlin, with its extraordinary reputation, could mistake hate-talk for freedom of speech is most disheartening. What have we come to that we cannot recognise deep unkindnesses - and worse - for what they are?

Reading the many reactions to Ruby's blog, you can see how many people needed for some brave soul to talk about this in public. It is hard standing up and opening yourself up as a target for more abuse. I hope Ruby receives the support she deserves.

Molly Andrews

Posted by: Anonymous on April 30, 2012 12:54 PM

I have had the experience of an entire thread dedicated to discussing my looks, and how I present myself to the Oberlin community. Despite never reading Obietalk myself, I was not able to avoid hearing about it because of friends who felt it was their duty to report to me exactly what was being said. My initial urge was to be upset, or to be angry, but what good would that do me and what pleasure would that give those who had maliciously posted about me? I love the close group of friends I have found here at Oberlin. They are all amazing people and they love me back. With them around, why should I care how someone I've probably never talked to rates my looks? In my opinion, the people on the internet expressing negative things about me are not doing so because of something I've done, but rather out of their own insecurities. I am happy with my looks, my body, my personality, and this makes some people uncomfortable. There will always be people in our lives that may make malicious comments about us. While we struggle to end Obietalk we may as well use it as a way to help ourselves dismiss the critiques of others and accept ourselves for who we are.

Posted by: Second-Year on April 30, 2012 1:23 PM

Do you remember what happened the first time you were bullied or had someone be mean to you? I do. I went home and cried and told my parents.

And they were very sympathetic, gave me a hug, and told me to ignore the bully - that they were just looking for a reaction, and if I didn't give them one, they'd leave me alone.

It worked. And it still works today.

There are people who like to say and do things to shock and upset people. Getting rid of ObieTalk won't change that. We can't control what people say or think about us - we can only control how we respond to it. It would be much easier to limit the negative effects of ObieTalk by trying to teach people that simple lesson, rather than censoring people's speech.

Posted by: Anonymous 2012 on April 30, 2012 2:34 PM

As another creator of the video SLUT/BITCH/CRAZY, I will agree with Grace. Our intention in creating the movie was not to vilify Obietalk, or even the people who use it. In my eyes, the purpose was to shed light on the humanity in all the people who use the site. As Grace said, "The fact that so many people choose to explore hurtful and scary opinions is representative of aspects of our community that are hurtful and scary. We should not shy away from that fact."

There is a person behind every post on Obietalk, and there is also a person behind every screen who is reading it. I believe that censoring Obietalk will not resolve the core issue here: that people in the Oberlin community feel the need to express themselves in this way. Eliminating Obietalk does not eliminate the want of people in our community to engage with each other in damaging, hurtful ways. And blaming the administration for the actions of the users does not acknowledge the responsibility that every member of the Oberlin community has to help make Oberlin safe for everyone.

Clearly the issue is a complicated one, and I do not pretend to know of a solution. However, I think that it's important for us, as a community, to consider why we so desperately want to find someone at fault for this situation, when it is we who are perpetuating it.

Posted by: Becca Kahn Bloch on April 30, 2012 3:28 PM

To assert that bullying and hate speech will go away once ObieTalk is gone is absurd. Having been here longer than you, I have had the privilege of being shit talked on both ObieTalk and OCon. In fact, the entire reason for ObieTalk's existence is that someone took it upon themselves to hack into and delete the entirety of OCon sometime in my sophomore year.

To blame the administration and Will Adams-Keene for the continued bullying and hate speech is equally absurd. The administration have nothing to do with this website - the fact that Ben Jones and Eric Estes are working on something that is only within the bounds of their jobs on a technicality is to be applauded. I'd also like to note that when I had been bullied on ObietTalk in the past, Will Adams-Keene was always receptive to my requests that certain posts be taken down.

If we are worried about the bullying and hate speech, we as a student body need to address it and police it. Oberlin has never been a progressive utopia, and just because some students have an outlet for their negativity doesn't mean it will go away once that outlet is gone. If we truly want change, we students need to personally enact it, and not rely on the administration to do so.

I'd also like to cosign everything that Chinwe has said - as another queer WOC, I feel for you.

Posted by: Student '12 on April 30, 2012 3:46 PM

Obie Talk, just like any medium of communication, allows you to take a core sample of student opinions and thoughts. Focusing attention on the means of communication is less important than focusing on the messages. While it is foolish for a student to expect the administration to crack down on a public, non-affiliated forum, it isn't foolish is for students to take action, work with the MRC and countless other amazing groups, and educate the campus on the issues that bother them. It's far too easy to misquote someone like Ben Jones (who is spectacular in his work with the college, and continues to become more impressive when looking back the further you get away from your college years)— it is much more rewarding and useful to not only think critically, but take action yourself.

I really would look forward to seeing what you as an empowered and energetic Oberlin student can do with regards to this issue. What can you do to work against such opinions and thoughts? If you wrote back next year about this issue again and about your actions against any existing latent racism, homophobia, transphobia, bigotry, etc. I cannot begin to express how excited I would be to see my alma mater portrayed as proactive and honest/transparent, and how reassuring it would be to hear that students are continuing the campus I've left.

Because in the real world, in the corporate world, in the world outside of higher education, there is no administration you can ask to do the work for you. There is no guaranteed funding, nor forums to bring up your questions. You may not get a chance to meet with your director— they might not even know your name. There is only what you do with your own energy and time— and Obies are spectacularly powerful in that regard when they manage to get themselves organized and take action. That is perhaps the biggest lesson learned from my five years there.

...you'd also be worthy of the Oberlin blogger hall-of-fame. We could put a bust in your image up next to an old sweater vest of Patrick's and a glass of Brandi's sweet tea.

Posted by: Seán H on April 30, 2012 4:08 PM

1) "I am bowing out of the discussion at this point, because I feel that I have said what needed to be said, and it is up to us as a community now to make a change."

Ruby, I applaud you for bringing the issue of Obietalk on the Oberlin blogs. I completely agree with Chinwe, Helena, Joseph Spiros, and some of the other individuals who have already posted so I'll try and keep my comments brief. I will say, however, that it is problematic for you of all people to "bow out" of the discussion given that 1) this is your blog 2) an ongoing discussion about this is crucial, and one must be open to the exchange of opinions. This entails a back and forth and for you to propose that you have already "said what needed to be said" implies that you are closed off to any other opinions (which is problematic and limited, given that you are only a first year and have not had as much experience and with Obietalk as some of us have. Remember also that this is Oberlin and people will challenge your views (and that this is a good thing). It is an act of maturity and responsibility to then be able to critically respond and to always be able to add to the discourse. Most, if not all the concerns and issues that have been raised are completely valid so for you dismiss them simply because you thought of Oberlin as this Utopia (a product, may I point out, at least partly of your own positionality and privilege) is inappropriate. As an international student who comes from a society where extreme censorship is the norm, I think it is important that Obietalk be discussed in light of rights such as free speech.

2) "[Chinwe,] I am unwilling to blame our community as a whole for the destructive action of a few individuals."

Blaming the administration is hardly more productive. Also, you end your post with "...and it is up to us as a community now to make a change." It is this same community (or members of it, at least) that expresses itself on Obietalk. Don't call on that community to do something when you also don't seem willing to hold it accountable. Furthermore, it is up to an entire community to hold its members accountable for not upholding community standards.

3) "You say that it is 'inappropriate for [me] to make any judgements about whether or not people are accepting of things that have been said about them on ObieTalk'. It is not assuming anything to say that homophobic and racist abuse, and violent or sexual threats are bad. I do not believe that anyone should be accepting of these things. You go on to say, 'the world is going to be a place where these systems of oppression exist.' I never expected to hear this at Oberlin, which is a place of such forward-thinking. There is never a reason to accept hatred or bullying as being inevitable in the world, and consequently to not take action against them."

Ignoring it is not equivalent to accepting it. Some of us are too busy trying to get an education, supporting ourselves, etc. to be protesting Obietalk. And some of us have raised concerns, attended forums, talked to school officials, etc. Just because we didn't post something on the Oberlin Blogs doesn't mean we're not active. You write, "There is never a reason to accept hatred or bullying as being inevitable in the world." I really don't understand how you came to this conclusion. For you to respond to Chinwe in the way that you did is beyonf problematic. Do you think that just because you posted about Obietalk that you are less accepting of racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. than she is?

4) "Although many of the comments here so far are written by those who advocate free speech in anonymity without exception and no college regulation, I would not necessarily assume that this is the majority opinion. Every student that I talk to in person about Obie Talk expresses a very different opinion, much closer to my own. Otherwise, I would never have written the blog. I have also had many emails of support from individuals who decided not to post on the blog. It seems that the students who support strict online anti-bullying regulation are not as vocal as those who do not, probably because they are less involved with Obie Talk themselves."

I could be wrong, but you seem to be getting defensive here. You don't need the majority of the student body backing you up to validate your blog post/points/concerns. That being said, you should also not assume that your blog is representative of most of the student body or that other people’s posts are not.

There are countless other issues that I have with both your original post and your responses, but other people have done a great job of getting them covered. Please feel free to ask for elaboration.

Thanks and hope to see your responses soon!

Posted by: Fajer "Fudge" Saeed '13 on April 30, 2012 5:55 PM

Well done Ruby for standing up for what you believe,
The problem with Obie talk is the anonymity. It so easy, and cowardly to say something and not have to take responsibility for what is said. That's the difference between a website representing a range of views held at Oberlin, which broadens minds, and one that protects the free speech rights of a few anonymous small minds. End Anonymity Now!

Mary Moynihan

Posted by: mary moynihan on April 30, 2012 5:59 PM

Well done Ruby for standing up for what you believe,
The problem with Obie talk is the anonymity. It so easy, and cowardly to say something and not have to take responsibility for what is said. That's the difference between a website representing a range of views held at Oberlin, which broadens minds, and one that protects the free speech rights of a few anonymous small minds. End Anonymity Now!

Mary Moynihan

Posted by: mary moynihan on April 30, 2012 6:02 PM

Apologies for the typos, including the first in "first year." I meant second year. Thanks.

Posted by: Fajer "Fudge" Saeed '13 on April 30, 2012 6:38 PM

John Hancock, or whoever you might be anonymously, cut the crap, it's not funny.

Posted by: alum on April 30, 2012 11:24 PM

Moderator's note: we removed an above comment by John Hancock as it is not a comment aimed at discourse or conversation, and we consider it to be abusive in this space.

We would like to take this opportunity to remind commenters that we are hoping for civil conversation on this comment thread, even if you choose to post anonymously.

Feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to discuss this further.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on April 30, 2012 11:46 PM

American chauvinism in the form of free-speech fundamentalism is very troubling. That a certain conception of free speech is dominant in "American culture" is not at all a reason that it is superior to other conceptions of free speech and we should adopt it in Oberlin. We might as well say that American culture is racist, Oberlin is in the United States, therefore Oberlin should be racist.

As an intellectual and political community, it is time to go beyond unquestioned acceptance of shallow liberalism. What should be the boundaries between free speech and hate speech? It's a question too important to be solved by the answer "we are in America, so follow the [dominant] American way." I don't agree with Ruby's solutions necessarily, but it is to her great credit that she's eloquently opened up a debate.

Posted by: alumni '11 on May 1, 2012 2:27 AM

Ruby, ma heart goes out to you!

Posted by: lila on May 1, 2012 2:31 AM

Alumni 11: As someone who deeply dislikes what you call "American chauvinism" but also comes from a country where censorship is the norm, I can say definitively that I would NEVER want to see Oberlin to attempt to redefine or restructure laws governing freedom-of-speech.

Posted by: Ruby Saha '14 on May 1, 2012 8:29 AM

Alumni 11, I would have to say very few of the people who have disagreed with Ruby did so on the basis of "we are in America, so...." I can't speak for anyone else here, but I have an issue with getting the Administration involved where it ought not be and (to be frank) what I perceive as oversensitivity on the campus: the preference to simply censor these unpopular, disgraceful voices instead of dealing with them constructively. Isn't it better to deconstruct these opinions in the open so we are better equipped to combat them in the real world?

That's not even considering the disingenuous, attention-seeking nature of a lot of the bigoted language on Obietalk.


Posted by: No offense on May 1, 2012 12:19 PM

Fajer says, 'Ignoring it is not equivalent to accepting it.' People would have said this during slavery and apartheid. Oberlin, what has happened to us? Where is our social justice? Burnt to the ground by flaky liberalism. We can NOT tolerate discrimination, because it is a crime like any other.

Posted by: anonymous '15 on May 1, 2012 1:30 PM

I suggest that in the end, as with so much in America, the free market will decide.

If ObieTalk is monitored in some way, there will likely be those who are outraged at the idea and set up another, unmonitored site or sites. At that point, people would have a choice. Should an unmonitored site prove to be a pit of hate talk, derisive and juvenile commentary, and personal attacks and belittlement, those who crave such entertainment or thrive on posting such drivel can wallow in this expression of their independence, adulthood, and free speech. Those who are offended or simply prefer not to read such matter (or, let's be honest, less of it, less often) will be able to utilize the monitored site if they choose.

It is impossible to cleanse the internet of hate, even in a little corner of what one wishes to be Obietopia. There will always be those pathetic souls who need to demean and belittle others--who are too immature or needy to find better uses for what is indeed the great right of free speech. But trying to enforce an ideal of respect for others is futile: I am reminded of the comic showing a man at a computer late at night, telling his wife, "I can't go to bed now! Someone on the internet is wrong!"

The evolving discussion here is valuable and my own opinion is that community ownership of the problem would lead to some level of community solving of the problem. But there will always be those who think it is their sacred right to bully and oppress others. Always. It is probably best for the rest of us mutually to recognize the potential and power we have, support each other, and just live our lives, ignoring their tiny-minded attempts at power and control.

(All this said, it would be interesting to see how Oberlin, or any other workplace, would deal with a similar situation if the site under discussion were for the exclusive use of employees rather than students--and which had similar hate talk and personal attacks on it. One would think this would constitute an hostile work environment and lawsuits or firings would ensue, but perhaps not.)

Posted by: Anonymous on May 1, 2012 1:36 PM

To be clear, because some of you don't seem to have understood: Although my previous comment did reference the United States and American culture, I was describing how things are, not how they should be. My position was that misunderstanding the legal and cultural context of a problem, wherever you are and whatever the problem is, is not going to help solve it, as any solutions are going to be limited and framed in the same context. That's just the reality we live in.

That said, yeah, of course I think free speech for everyone, including those with hateful messages, is way more important than "protecting" oversensitive people who can't control themselves enough to not visit a website that makes them feel bad. But that's just my silly "American chauvinism" showing through. Wait, what?

Posted by: Joseph Spiros on May 1, 2012 2:31 PM

Thanks for sending this to me, Ruby. I couldn't agree with you more. A college is a social environment built upon community and mutual respect. In my view, each of us is responsible to the community, both to support it and to exemplify good communal values. I can't understand hate speech or characterizations such as the ones you have deleted. These are neither viewpoints nor frivolities. They are, in fact, manifestations of a problem regarding speech within the community and knowing how to show respect to one's fellows. Lastly, I cannot imagine anyone being unwilling to sign their name to a statement they would make. The unseen, unsigned attack is a fascist characteristic, not a socially responsible trait of a democratic society.

Posted by: Lewis Nielson on May 1, 2012 5:04 PM

The kinds of statements made on obietalk exist on this campus outside of the internet. I had a professor joke about suicide in class, and was extremely uncomfortable with it. As a student with a history of mental health crises, I found it extremely offensive and had I taken that class at the wrong time in my education, would've been triggered. I have posted about this on obietalk, because I didn't feel safe or respected in that classroom, and was certainly not comfortable talking to that professor one on one. If nothing else, I would hope that other students who are sensitive to these issues might see my warning and use that information to take care of themselves.

Anonymity is important when there are power dynamics involved. I could not attach my name to a post explaining how thoroughly uncomfortable I was in a class. I did everything I could not to be noticed in that class, and while I wrote this information on professor evaluations (another anonymous, unsigned comment form, by the way) I would never do so in a way that could damage my grades or put me in a more uncomfortable setting with this professor.

I would think that before we all eschew anonymity and the power it can give people to do good, we should consider that it may be one of the only ways to speak to people higher than us in a stratified social system without damaging repercussions.

Posted by: Obie 2013 on May 1, 2012 8:02 PM

Joseph Spiros - shuttin' 'em down

Posted by: Anonymous on May 1, 2012 9:23 PM

“Fajer says, 'Ignoring it is not equivalent to accepting it.' People would have said this during slavery and apartheid. Oberlin, what has happened to us? Where is our social justice? Burnt to the ground by flaky liberalism. We can NOT tolerate discrimination, because it is a crime like any other.”

Posted by: anonymous '15 on May 1, 2012 1:30 PM

First of all, let me give a shout-out to “Anonymous on May 1, 2012 1:36 PM” who referenced the xkcd comic: http://xkcd.com/386/

Now to respond to “anonymous ’15”:

Let me begin by saying that much like Ruby seems to have done with a few people who have raised concerns here, you too have used only part of my quote out of context and without giving equal consideration to the rest of what I said. I encourage you to next time use my quote to ask for clarification. It seems there is some confusion as what I meant, so allow me to elaborate. As someone who has had negative comments posted about her on Obietalk, I have decided to do a number of things in response: 1) talk to several individuals including Will and school officials 2) participate in forums/other similar discussions. I have also, however, decided to turn the other cheek and not let petty comments dominate my life. Ignoring these comments is in no way accepting or condoning them. As a person of color who is supporting herself through college on a scholarship, you will have to excuse me if I can’t fight Obietalk all day, every day. In addition, fighting Obietalk does not necessarily translate to writing a blog post so that the world can know about “Oberlin’s dark secret.” So let me state again, choosing to ignore comments does not necessarily mean that you are passively sitting around perpetuating –isms on this campus. Please remember that Obietalk has been here far longer than you have and that many people have been trying to do something about it far before this blog post was ever written or you ever wrote this comment begging the question, “Oberlin, what has happened to us?” (An ‘us’ that you have only been part of for two semesters. This in no way makes your comment any less valid, but it is important to acknowledge your limited experiences.) The assumption that ignoring Obietalk or comments about you on Obietalk is equivalent to “accepting” those comments and their implications is inappropriate and insulting.

I would also like to point out that ideally everyone would be able to express themselves in a real-life/public forum, or at least attach their identities to their comments online. However, that is not the case. For various reasons, many do not feel comfortable sharing their identities. Anonymity is not bad in within itself. As others have mentioned, Obietalk is arguably symptomatic of a larger problem and not necessarily the problem itself. Sure, there are posts that are beyond ridiculous/acceptable (and moderation may help with this), but there are also posts that indicate that when it comes to issues such as race, this campus is not yet at a place where everyone can freely voice their opinions/biases/etc. In this way, online anonymity provides what can be a useful outlet—a reminder of the work that needs to be done to get our community to where it needs to be. You also need to think about the fact that interfering with Obietalk won’t necessarily change the attitudes that have caused some students to write some of the things they wrote. The issue at hand is wider and more complicated and needs to be addressed in that way.

I appreciate the sentiments behind the slavery and apartheid examples, but I also think your use of them is very reductive. Indeed, there is much to be learned from those experiences and a lot to be said for the extent to which communities could be mobilized to act and create change then. However, one must also remember that this is Oberlin, an academic institution. Like any other institution, it has its inherent biases/prejudices/-ism that perpetuate forms of privilege and oppression. However, it is an *academic* institution that wants to and often does support its students. The administration, faculty, etc. are put here for us and our education and so fighting issues that arise in our community/communities (which the administration, faculty, staff, town, etc. are also part of) inevitably entails working *with* the institution rather than necessarily or only working against it. The administration in not here with the conscious intent to discriminate and harm and we need to take that into account in whatever approach we take to fighting discrimination on this campus.

Please also remember that Obietalk is not the only outlet for discriminatory attitudes to take place. There are countless real-life examples of this including real-life interactions between students/faculty/etc., vandalism, and so forth. I encourage you to apply this notion of social justice (which by the way, I would appreciate if you unpacked since it means very different things to people on this campus) to more than the taking down of a website.

I am also concerned with your use of “flaky liberalism” in your post. This too is reductive. The problem is not “flaky liberalism,” it is the attitudes behind the hurtful posts on Obietalk. Talk about free speech is not meant to condone these attitudes, but to raise valid concerns about what it means for the administration to be initiating this move towards moderation, what it will mean to have moderation in a previously completely free forum, where we draw the sometimes tricky line between moderation and censorship, and where the students identities (or lack thereof) fit into the discussion, amongst many other things. These are important conversations to have, not necessarily because this is America but because this is the Oberlin community and decisions made affect all of us. As I mentioned in my previous post, as someone who comes from a “censored country,” I appreciate these conversations and the opportunity to have an exchange of ideas.

Thanks, and feel free to ask for elaboration.

Posted by: Fajer "Fudge" Saeed '13 on May 2, 2012 11:32 AM

While I'm sure almost all of the members of the Oberlin community strongly disagree with hateful speech and discrimination and the like, what you are promoting is scary. You are asking the school, the administration, and the community to help you force everyone to think like you. You, being uncomfortable with people having opinions different than your own, seemed to have taken steps far beyond simply encouraging a respectful community.

While I very much dislike Obietalk and what it stands for, and I do not believe that anonymous forums are necessary part of free speech, I believe that free speech is important. A discourse is extremely important in almost all circumstances. A HUGE part of why i chose to attend Oberlin College was because I wanted to hear opinions different than my own and similar to my own, and I knew the people here would be open to discussing ideas and ideals. This is extremely important to me. I believe that you think that most students came to Oberlin to live in a bubble, but I do not think that this is at all true.

Also, It seems you believe that the only discrimination and nasty things happening on campus are happening on Obietalk. This is just not true.

I also think that, though obietalk sucks and is very much not something I wanted in my college experience, that Oberlin College is an amazing, loving, intelligent, and all around wonderful institution. Your attempt to turn away prospies by talking about obietalk in such a light, seems to me as if you want to completely invalidate the wonderful parts of the college. I have never felt more accepted or more able to be myself anywhere in the world, and I think that most students would agree. While it is not perfect, Oberlin is an amazing school. Prospies should know that too.

Posted by: Chandler Atkinson on May 2, 2012 3:01 PM

An Obietalk debate/forum will be held this Friday, May 4th at 12:15 pm in West Lecture Hall. Both Ruby and Will Adams-Keane (creator of Obietalk) will be there. This will be moderated by The Oberlin College Dialogue Center whom you can contact for more information (ombuds@oberlin.edu).

Posted by: Fajer "Fudge" Saeed '13 on May 2, 2012 3:54 PM

While I understand your frustration, I do want to point out that shutting down Obietalk is hardly a long-term solution. The internet is a massive space. Who’s to say that another Obietalk won’t pop up soon after, maybe with a new name and face? Let us not forget that Obietalk isn’t the first of its kind. It’s merely a second iteration.
Secondly, believe it or not, Obietalk often functions as a sort of safe space (it pains me to use that term here) for overstressed students to unwind. Sadly, their idea of destressing is maligning others to their heart’s content. I guess the pall of anonymity has led us to ignore the consequences of our online endeavors. It is important to accept the fact that we cannot change or curb how people view us in society. We cannot change their ideology or perception. So killing Obietalk you won’t do anyone a favor. These people will continue to exist and they will find other ways to channel their hate.
Thirdly, I do feel that most authors are looking to generate humor instead of cornering a person. Quite a few posts are written not with the intention of voicing hate but to crack a pathetic joke (that one wouldn’t dare to crack in public). If you note carefully, a majority of the “racist” posts aren’t serious at all. They are mostly aimed at eliciting some twisted, sadistic sense of humor. Yes, ill-conceived humor, completely unpalatable to some. But this act of mindless deprecation what the rest of the internet community calls “trolling”.
Lastly, I would urge you to take everything you read on Obietalk with a grain of salt. I’ve been featured multiple times, and not in positive light. But I’ve come to insulate myself from the slander. It just doesn’t affect me anymore. I still have friends, and I continue to live my life normally as I have always.

Posted by: ss on May 2, 2012 7:39 PM

I doubt I have anything to add that hasn't already been said but it's 2:30 AM in Scotland and the Pacers and Magic are at half time and I don't have anything else to do really. Now, actually, would be a good time to go on ObieTalk, but I haven't been on it in a couple of years and it seems like it's still not really worth the time, if I can even get on overseas at all. I probably haven't beaten the hotness rating of 6/10 someone threw at me freshman year anyway. If I really wanted to read some internet trolling I'd look up a Bieber song on YouTube and read the comments for awhile instead.
ObieTalk was a terrible idea from the start. Truthfully, the internet was a terrible idea from the start in a lot of ways. The world is by and large anonymous these days--ESPN just fired a columnist they had on staff for a few months without ever seeing her (or, possibly, him, or, possibly, zim [I've actually never typed that before now. Spell check isn't accepting it, somebody let Occupy know, we'll add it to their demands]). When people aren't made accountable for their actions they do a lot of really shitty, unforgivable things. Remorse isn't so much of a thing as it once was. It sucks, it does, but the world has always been a mean, competitive, petty place. Today it's also an obnoxiously faceless place so that meanness, competition, and pettiness is especially apparent. Whether it's an Oberlin student or some random douche in Topeka who stumbled upon that music video you made of Halo, people will rip you to shreds for any little quirk if you can't reciprocate (which you can sort of, but it's not a good look).

I guess what I'm really saying is that, while nobody can argue that your heart's in the right place, Ruby, somebody could real easily say something despicable about you, or any of these commenters anonymously on this thread and get away with it. Maybe they already did, I didn't read it all. I didn't care to.

Posted by: Nick Perry '13 on May 2, 2012 9:32 PM

Ruby, the world you inhabit is not perfect. I don't think it's worthwhile for those victimized on Obietalk to whine about it. In fact, it annoys me. We're 20 years old and we're allowing our highly educated selves to be bullied? It's embarrassing. The school administration doesn't want to be seen cutting off student access to websites. And they're right that they have no "ought" to intervene.
I can't sympathize with the idea of anonymous hatred: what good would it do me? And I can't sympathize with the expression of such cruel hatred as I have seen on the site. But how can you fail to question the persons and motives behind the hatred? They must be the most damned of us all. If we don't like Obietalk let's stop using it, democratically. Get off your spoiled high horse. This isn't England.

Posted by: Isaac Shub on May 2, 2012 11:07 PM

I've read all of these comments over the past few days, and forgive me if I'm wrong, but I haven't read any mention of the good side of ObieTalk and its anonymity. The bullying that goes on is half of what occurs, but for some ObieTalk serves as a venue to express feelings to a group of people that they can't express to anyone else. Often people post about being depressed, not having any friends and most if not all comments are encouraging and positive. People can ask questions on ObieTalk they would never ask with their name attached, and I'm not talking about racist trolling, but deeply personal things that we all wonder about. You can even go on there and ask the theme of splitchers and get five responses within seconds, less time than it would take trying to find it on the Oberlin website. Having a forum for anonymity is a very good thing, especially on a campus where so many of us are neurotic and angsty (ya'll know it's true). Some people need a space to vent their feelings to people who will know what they're talking about and perhaps also express the same kinds of feelings. To some, ObieTalk is an aid in not feeling alone in situations where perhaps you have felt alone for a very long time.

Posted by: anonymous '14 on May 2, 2012 11:36 PM

Bullying needs to be opposed in any forum, it seems to me, regardless of free speech, which I support. I'm quite disturbed to see the repetition of advice to get over and stop whining about verbal sexual abuse, within in this thread.

Lilianne Gould

Posted by: Lilianne on May 3, 2012 12:22 AM

Hi Ruby
May I lend my support to your efforts to raise awareness of the damaging effects of cyber-bullying in your college community. These struggles are familiar ones. Bullying is not new and sadly will continue, especially if nothing is done. So I think it is wonderful that have taken action and that so many are now supporting you.

The forms of bullying you make note of are not permitted in schools, universities and the workplace. Why should the blogosphere be any different? I object to the claims by some that what goes on in the blog you talk about has to be tolerated to uphold freedom. Freedom of speech is not justification for vilification, inciting vilification and promoting hate crime. To permit cyber-bullying to continue would be to assert the right to freedom to bully over the right to be free from persecution.

Here in Australia, there are moves to have a Commonwealth ombudsman to address cyber-bullying and there are many concerned people advocating for proper justice for the bullied and the abused. I think what you are doing is incredibly important.

Best wishes


Posted by: Mark Davis on May 3, 2012 8:04 AM

Dear Ruby and fellow students,

Thank you for making your concerns about Obie Talk public. My wife and I were upset by these accounts of racism and bullying at Oberlin and want to do something to end it. I think the administration's proposal to moderate Obie Talk might be the most effective way to deal with it, since it would be easy for someone to create another anonymous site if Obie Talk is shut down.

As they pointed out, there are similar sites at other colleges and universities. One that seems to work a little better, although I find much of the content disgusting, is Cornell Hub, http://cornellhub.com . Its developers have made efforts to make it attractive and fun, and they do moderate posts. See http://cornellhub.com/directions/ and scroll down to "A few simple, common-sense rules you must abide by:". The rules include:

Please note that by posting on Cornell Hub, you agree that any post any of the moderators deem inappropriate may be removed at the moderator's sole discretion. Use of Cornell Hub is a privilege, not a right. Cornell Hub also has the right, at its sole discretion, to revoke board privileges at any time without notice for infractions. Your posts must not include any of the following:

Personal attacks, internet-bullying, invasions of individual privacy
You may talk about Cornellians by name so long as you are not offensive or invading their personal privacy. The moderators may also remove posts and ban posters for pesonal attacks or references they feel are inappropriate. We at Cornell Hub are students ourselves and we will do whatever we can to protect fellow students from unwarranted attacks. Users who egregiously break this rule will be banned and have all of their posts removed without question, no matter the content. You are expected to treat other forum members as you would like to be treated.

Not acceptable:
"omg Jane Doe is such a slut, I bet she's slept with 50 guys this semester"
"John Doe's phone number is 123-456-7890 we should all call him and spam him all day"

"Hey, I heard John Doe was inducted into X and Y society yesterday"
"Jane Doe is the social chair of Alpha Beta sorority"


Gratuitous racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, hate speech, etc.
Self-explanatory and very easy to recognize. This type of content is not welcome anywhere on Cornell Hub, no matter what. Cornell Hub is an inclusive community and members of all races, sexual orientations, religions or other affiliations are welcome to post or read.

It's not perfect but seems to be a reasonable compromise allowing free speech and anonymity with some safety from hate.

If there is no way to get advice anonymously other than Obie Talk, the administration might consider starting a site like Dear Uncle Ezra, http://ezra.cornell.edu/

Posted by: Parent of an Oberlin Student on May 3, 2012 8:16 AM

It seems there has been some confusion over what the event tomorrow is going to be like. It is a public forum where all students are encouraged to come and share their views over how we can hopefully move forward. Everyone is welcome, but no one person will be necessarily expected to come. Thanks, and apologies for the confusion.

Posted by: Fajer "Fudge" Saeed '13 on May 3, 2012 1:44 PM

Posted by: Anonymous on May 3, 2012 4:18 PM

Hi Ruby,

I really appreciate your blog post, and I'm very grateful for your courage in posting it. I think the administration is trying its best to ameliorate the situation and that Obietalk has many positive aspects about it, and in principle I think the idea of an anonymous college forum is great. On the other hand, Obietalk has at times made me want to leave Oberlin. Not because I have ever been targeted on it, or even because my close friends have been.

Those people who use Obietalk as a forum for hate speech that threatens entire communities and as a platform for bullying and gossip have made me lose faith in my fellow students here. My old high school would have suspended (perhaps expelled) the moderators of such a site for not deleting hateful comments, or for saying they would post everyone's names when it came time for them to graduate. On every legitimate online forum I have ever visited, moderators enforce a policy of deletion of hurtful comments and threads. It is as simple as that.

Whatever comes of this issue, something must be done to mitigate the damage that comes of hate speech and bullying. Ruby, thank you again for your post.

Posted by: Siena C on May 3, 2012 10:04 PM

We wanted to thank Ruby and people who have responded again for your contributions to this important discussion. As your responses to her blog post demonstrate, there are a lot of passionate opinions about ObieTalk. While many of the posts have provided much for us to think about, there are some posts that range from boorish to abusive. We would strongly encourage all students to respect each other's voices on this issue. Listening with a spirit of generosity is an important skill necessary for making strong and persuasive arguments. We appreciate OCDC for moderating a student forum to help further this conversation on Friday at noon in West Lecture Hall and we encourage everyone to attend. Again, let's have rigorous debate where all voices can be heard responsibly.

Posted by: Eric Estes and Ben Jones on May 3, 2012 10:20 PM

** I would like to add a postscript to my above comment.

I should reiterate that I am sympathetic to the argument that Obietalk is a valuable forum for Oberlin students, and its anonymity means that many students who would not otherwise speak out have an outlet and a way to reach out to the larger community. This is a wonderful thing. I also understand the argument that we as Oberlin students have no obligation ever to go on Obietalk, and by avoiding it we can avoid bullying entirely. However, I do not see these arguments as compatible. As long as Obietalk is a useful and valuable resource for anonymous discussion, it WILL be used, and it will NOT be avoided. To allow hate speech to taint such a valuable resource to the community is, in my opinion, a mistake.

I now see there is an alternative site--obiesanonymous--with moderation built in. Though I have yet to make much use of it, perhaps this will serve as a good alternative, or at least as a model for what Obietalk could be: a democratic forum and a true safe space.

Posted by: Siena C on May 3, 2012 10:37 PM

Hi all,

I know I'm jumping into this a little late, but as someone who appreciates and understands the desire for free speech but is at times disgusted by what appears on Obietalk, there are alternatives to a black and white solution. I don't believe it is possible to entirely remove an online forum--as another poster threatened, another would simply pop up in its place--but there may be ways to create an alternate space where students can still talk online.

One concept is a forum in which each student is given a single screen name, either of their choosing or entirely randomly, which they could not change. There would be no link between their screen name and their real name, and no one would know who was behind the screen name--essentially preserving the anonymity. However, while they would remain anonymous, their screen name would stay with them. This would allow them to post under the pseudonym on the forum, but they would gain a reputation. If person "X" constantly issued racist comments, soon he/she/they would be ignored. And if person "Y" was the single contributor to a thread about a person, it would be immediately obvious and the thread would lose legitimacy.

Essentially, it is a way of preserving an anonymous online forum in while the only restrictions are those imposed by having a single screen name.

The purpose of this is to give students an alternate forum in which to continue the constructive conversations that were taking place on Obietalk. Those that wished to have real conversations could continue to have them, and those who continued to simply spew hate would eventually be ignored.

This is certainly not the only solution, and may not even be a viable one, but it is a start. Please continue contributing with thoughts and opinions, and particularly with potential solutions if you have them.


Posted by: Ty Diringer on May 4, 2012 1:13 AM

Isaac Shub: Get off your spoiled, privileged, victim-blaming, condescending, English-hating high horse.

Posted by: Obie '10 on May 4, 2012 1:41 AM

Moderator's note to Obie '10 and anyone else frequenting this blog post:

If the comments devolve into personal attacks, we will shut this thread. Please, continue to write with civility if you choose to share your thoughts on the Oberlin blogs.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on May 4, 2012 8:16 AM

I love English. It's my major.

Posted by: Isaac Shub on May 4, 2012 12:31 PM

I support free speech, but I also support common decency. If we filter our thoughts in real life, why would we be so vicious and unrestrained online, anonymously? I mean, I understand that people do it because it's easy and lacks the same consequences as in real life. It reminds me of people who use Chatroulette in the most vulgar ways. Or creepy people that sext other people in a sexual-harassment sort of situation. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. And personally, I would rather feel protected from threats of hate crimes, racism, and anonymous sexual harassment than maintain the anonymity of Obie Talk.

Yes, free speech is both ugly and wonderful, painful and necessary. But if you going to speak your mind, own up to your words. If you're too cowardly to own up to cruel remarks, then you shouldn't be saying them.

I have no desire to protect the freedom of speech of individuals who post cruel comments only from the safety of their anonymity.

But most of all, I have no desire to be in a community that facilitates and amplifies petty, shallow gossip, repulsive bigotry, and verbal harassment from cowardly internet users.

Plus, I would want to know that there would be real consequences if someone posted something threatening my safety or sexually harassing me.

So, regardless of what should or will become of Obie Talk, it is undeniably a severe drawback to attending Oberlin, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I didn't know any of this until after I paid my deposit. But I was wait-listed at one other school--so, who knows?

Personally, I think there should be two separate Obie Talks--one carefully monitored anonymous forum that censors hate talk and harassment and one not-anonymous forum for people to say the terrible things they are so bent on sharing with the world.

Thanks for listening.

Posted by: newly admitted obie... for now... on May 5, 2012 4:18 AM

Oh no, I need to apologize for that last post. I just realized how hypocritical it was. I didn't know what I was going to write when I entered my (fake) name in. So I ended up contradicting myself. I'm sorry, guys! I guess I do support somewhat-anonymous online forums after all... it is nice to speak freely. But not hatefully--not directed at another student. I would never use internet anonymity to attack a peer. I still think people that do that (bully/verbally/sexually assault others) should own up to their words.

And if I had originally entered my real name, I would have left out the dumb part about getting wait-listed somewhere else. That was cocky and passive aggressive. I also probably wouldn't have used the word 'sext.' Or maybe I would have. Other than that, I probably would have written the same post--had I been bold enough to put my real name.

The thing is, I don't usually comment on blogs and I've never actually been on Obie Talk--so I don't have the genuine experience to back up my opinions.

So basically:
1) I'm sorry.
2) I like Ty's idea a lot.

Posted by: same "newly admitted obie... for now..." on May 5, 2012 4:47 AM

I didn't have a lot of respect for the student communication flunkies before they posted on Ruby's blog about Obietalk, and I sure as hell don't have any for them now.

Ruby made some damn good points about why this IS an Oberlin administration problem and why IT IS NOT simply an issue of "it's the internet lawlz".

Hate speech is a form of cyberbullying and Oberlin is supposed to protect all of its students from harm, not turn a blind eye to the issue. If you don't think the stuff on here is harmful, think back to last semester. Remember the student who attempted suicide? I do. I found out through Obietalk. There were posts all over the site telling him he should have gone through with it, that he was a fucking coward for not being successful, and that he deserved to die. I don't believe Obietalk led up to his decision that day but it definitely didn't help during the aftermath.

The posts by the students working for communications/circlejerking with Ben Jones make me sick. Why are you so quick to defend the college administration? Did you bother reading the case Ruby made for why they need to be involved? Are you too busy talking to your plush squirrels to add anything productive to the discussion?

These kind of anonymous hateful remarks shouldn't even be an issue in Oberlin, but since they are, the administration needs to get their act together and DO something about it. Telling the student body it "isn't their problem" isn't working for most of us.

Posted by: Late to the party on May 5, 2012 9:52 AM

The posts by the students working for communications/circlejerking with Ben Jones make me sick....Are you too busy talking to your plush squirrels to add anything productive to the discussion?

Circlejerking? Who even says that? Your "anonymous hateful remarks", to use your own words, are kind of contradicting your entire point.

Posted by: Ruby Saha '14 on May 5, 2012 11:01 AM

Dear "Late to the party,"

You can accuse us (the administration) of many things (and believe me, MANY students have done so on both sides of this issue) but saying we've "turned a blind eye to the issue" is uninformed at best and completely absurd at worst. In the last couple of weeks, Eric and I have probably spent 80% of our waking hours working on this. Read any of the last three issues of the Review. Read any of the many threads on facebook. Read Obietalk itself for the negative reactions to what we've started. You may not agree with what we've done, and that's fine, but there is no way to argue that we have done nothing.

I agree that there are many things that have to stop, including the example you cited. But that doesn't give me -- or you -- the right to turn a blind eye (to use your words) to the other 90+ comments in this thread, most of which are as valuable as anything else written on this page, regardless of where they fall in viewpoint. No one in this thread is arguing for the continuation of hate speech or harassment. People are simply pointing out that it's not that simple -- this is a very muddy issue with a lot of grey areas between the parts we can agree are black and white.

There is NO WAY that we as a community will get through this without finding common ground. That is what Eric and I (along with YB, OCDC, and many students) are working tirelessly to facilitate and then empower the student body to implement.

If want to discuss this further, please email me to set up a time.

Posted by: Ben Jones on May 5, 2012 11:31 AM

Ben: Obietalk has been around for 3 years, and before that Oberlin Confessional, and it has taken this long for the administration to try to do something?

You group together the 90+ comments in this thread as if they all support your view of a 'grey area' in cyber-abuse. They do not! A lot of them, especially those that came later (i.e. from the people who were not sitting on Obietalk all day and came over to trash the blog as soon as they saw it) advocate institutional action, and make clear the fact that the college has a duty to protect its own students from targeted online attacks. You can't separate obietalk from Oberlin. It only exists because it uses the college network!

You cite Obietalk as a source for your information on this issue? You actually base your opinions and your knowledge of your students' opinions on what you see on Obietalk? You read all that abuse Ruby received on obietalk for this and you think it's valuable information? Wow, you go on Obietalk?? Most of us never go on there! Why would we? I don't support discrimination and cyber-abuse, and it makes me sick to see it happening at my college every day. BUT this does not stop the silent fear that we all carry around with us, that us or one of our friends will be seriously hurt by what another student writes about us on obietalk. I walk around campus and I don't know who to trust. The unknown threat is the worst. You want to 'empower' students to implement a policy against their own cyber-abuse? But discrimination and harassment are 'against the law' - just read the Oberlin rules and regulations! This IS a college problem. The college has done nothing for years. Now it must act.

I don't want to put my name on the comment because I'm scared to, because obietalk still exists and I don't want to be next.

Posted by: '14 on May 5, 2012 4:18 PM

I don't know whether this is the administration's problem. I don't think it is. I guess an argument could be made about abusive and harassing comments and their unacceptableness, but it's clearly hard to police a site whose method of operation is anonymity. There seems to me something a little unhealthy about your fear of retribution from an anonymous website, "'14". Obietalk has the potential to be hurtful, but it's also just a website with anonymous speech. The less that campus, as a whole, pays attention to it, the less harm it can do. I'm not saying we should stop talking about cyberbullying, but, I've got to admit, there's something about the tone some people have taken, arguing that this is an "administration," grown-up problem, that the administration ought to be cleaning up after its students, which seems more than anything like a kind of self-infantilization. We should grow up, and solve our own problems, either by abstaining from Obietalk as individuals, or by collective boycott. Grovelling before the administration and demanding they remove the site, as though this were an inalienable right, is not cool.

Posted by: Isaac Shub '14 on May 5, 2012 4:40 PM

In response to '14's comment (May 5, 2012 4:18 PM):

You've missed the point. I cited places where discussion is happening for a single purpose: to show that the entire campus is discussing the fact that the administration is now involved. It seemed that "Late to the Party" was the only person who hadn't realized this.

I do not use ObieTalk as a source for anything. But it's hard not to visit the site when half the emails in my in-box lately include links to threads on it, trying to prove one point or another. What I wouldn't give for this to not be the case.

You wrote "You group together the 90+ comments in this thread as if they all support your view of a 'grey area' in cyber-abuse."


There is NOTHING acceptable about cyber-abuse. The grey area I refer to is the question of whether or not everything posted to every Oberlin-related anonymous forum (there seem to be three now?) constitutes cyber-abuse. Since most people would say no, that leaves a big grey area to consider when determining next steps.

But let me be clear: no one here is questioning the fact that personal attacks and other cyber-abuse needs to end. Period.


Posted by: Ben Jones on May 5, 2012 4:58 PM

Dear Ruby,
It's terrifying to read about what's happening in Obie talk space. The level of bullying, racism and sexism in those quotes is outrageous! It's really good that you spoke up! This must have been a shock for those cyber bullies who think that they can do anything under the mask of free speech.

It's also scary to read how bullying, racism and hate speech is normalised by freedom of speech. People have been fighting for freedom of speech all over the world, there are still people in prisons for having fought for freedom of speech in many parts of the world.

Freedom of speech has a long and painful history as a human right, it's not there to be abused by a bunch of bullies who think of themselves clever. Those bullies of obie talk obviously violate the freedom of speech of all others who are bullied and scared to speak up. What about their right of living without being attacked?

Removing anonymity might enable everyone to exercise their freedom of speech in an appropriate way. Responses of the moderator in this blog do not sound in favour of this change. But why not if he's eager to hear and accommodate various perspectives in that blog?

The response of the college president to your complaint sounds very unprofessional. Everyone knows that problems (and this is definitely a big problem) do not vanish when they are avoided. Perhaps his response is a sign of administrative support for the ongoing bullying and hate speech in Obie talk? I teach in a culturally diverse university campus and know that it's their responsibility to safeguard the well-being and freedom of all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political belief, etc. It's not right to treat this as an ordinary naughtiness that happens in a private cyber space, it's much more dangerous...
That's why it's really good that you spoke up Ruby. Hopefully, other bullied students will do the same and confront those bullies. Cigdem

Posted by: Cigdem on May 6, 2012 6:13 PM


a cursory look at the responses to this blog post would indicate that most people are actually in favor of change and in favor of moderation, but NOT in favor of the administration coddling the students. it would appear that we as a student body want to address the hostilities written on obietalk ourselves rather than relying on the administration to act in loco parentis. college is a place where we are at least supposed to try to learn to be adults, and part of that is being responsible, as a community, for our behavior.

eric estes and ben jones are working extremely hard on stomething that they actually have no jurisdiction over, and will adams-keene is acting in cooperation with them. continuing to blame them for what we, as a student body, have done is reductive and not necessary.

Posted by: student '12 on May 7, 2012 5:33 PM


Please stop insinuating that students are being 'silenced.' If you had read the posts above, you would see that plenty of students who have been spoken about on ObieTalk--including Ruby herself--are speaking out. I've had my name on ObieTalk, and I feel fine talking about it. Chinwe and Abraham, who both commented above, felt good enough to appear in the student film, Slut/Bitch/Crazy, about their experience having been harassed over the internet.

Oberlin students are not easily silenced. ObieTalk's existence is not infringing on my, or anyone else's, First Amendment rights. Taking it away would be the college removing a non-college-owned platform for students to voice their opinions. That's far more problematic.

I think this thread has proved that most people are in favor of moderation, not removal of ObieTalk. Please read the comments--not just Ruby's post--before you comment again.

Posted by: '12 on May 8, 2012 1:09 PM

Imagine you are a freshman who has just arrived at Oberlin, it's your first time living on your own, you've just started to make friends and then someone writes about you on obietalk. What can you do? You would be scared to speak out - you're in a new place and now you don't know who to trust. Maybe it's that one person you thought you'd connected with who wrote something personal about you on obietalk. You suddenly feel incredibly isolated. Cyber-bullying can and does end lives, let's not forget that.

Posted by: '12 on May 8, 2012 8:51 PM

I'm a parent of a prospie and wanted to thank Ruby for airing the issue, but also to offer a possible solution:

Suppose that anonymity on the ObieTalk site was a privilege that could be lost by abusing the site's rules. All Will Adams-Keane would have to do would be to warn a user that a post was racist/sexist/otherwise inappropriate, that such posts are forbidden on ObieTalk and that if it happens again anonymity will be lost. The posts I have in mind are the ones he's already willing to delete, so my approach shouldn't drive people elsewhere.

Users who use the site appropriately could continue to use it anonymously with all the benefits they get from that. Users who don't will eventually have to face up to their hatred.

Posted by: Prospie Parent on May 10, 2012 8:21 AM

Thanks for this very interesting blog post and subsequent posts. I have tried to read most of them.

An unaddressed issue is that the site owner has broken college rules by running a site that has consistently featured hate speech, and defamation that has had documented harmful effects. If the college were to address this breach of rules seriously, it might obviate the possibility of other students opening similar sites.

While young adults may legitimately be concerned about their independence and autonomy, this seems something of a diversion from the real harm caused by the site, and the fact that Oberlin, like other US colleges, charges large amounts of money to provide a facilitative learning environment clearly compromised by sites such as this one.

There is some unpleasant mysogyny demonstrated in posts by (declaredly) male students who say that (mainly) female students are whining, complaining or 'unhealthy' in their concerns about the site. And it's apparent that many female students try to stay 'under the radar' because of the site - a seriously disempowering situation for them here, and in other college environments.


Posted by: Francesca Vernier on May 11, 2012 12:29 PM

Well you got your wish. Obietalk is gone. Now there is no mode for anonymous free speech in Oberlin.

Posted by: Congratulations on May 14, 2012 12:13 AM

Due to a high volume of abusive comments posted on this blog, we have decided to tentatively disable the commenting feature.
Cary Foster
Director of Web Initiatives

Posted by: Cary Foster on May 17, 2012 5:00 PM

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