Pay Attention to the MRC!

SOPHIE JONES // NOVEMBER 9, 2018 

Let’s get one thing straight; this article is in the “Opinions” section of The Grape. I am writing because I have an opinion on this issue. But I am also writing as a white, middle class, able bodied person whose engagement with the MRC is fairly limited. In this article, I focus on the apparent lack of support for MRC professional staff and do my best to provide some context as well as some next steps. I do this with an eye towards the support work and activism that the MRC has done for/with countless unnamed individuals as well as student groups including Asian American Alliance, Obies for Undocumented Inclusion, La Alianza, and Zami. The MRC has long served as a launch pad for community organizing and a space of refuge and relaxation for POC and QTPOC students in particular; these and other services for marginalized students are primarily at stake here.

Next to Kahn, there is a sky blue house with white columns and banisters and oeil-de-boeuf windows. The space is home to the Multicultural Resource Center, a department committed to advocating for marginalized students. Previously located in Wilder, the MRC moved to its new, more spacious home last Fall with plans to grow; expanding their work in everything from community building, to individual support work, to social justice programming and events, to allyship training. Enter this house a month ago and you would have been greeted by the five friendly professional staff members dedicated to these vital projects, plus an eager dog dedicated to greeting you. Just a few weeks later, the MRC is smaller and quieter than ever. Since June of this year, four professional staff have vacated their positions at the MRC; why?

In June, Toni Meyers resigned as Director, leaving Associate Director and Event Coordinator Anna Phung as de facto Director until last week, when they accepted a position at Princeton University’s Women*s Center. Libni Lopez, formerly a Program Director at the MRC, also left his position last month to become a counselor at Oberlin’s Counseling Center, followed by Elliot Director, who resigned last week, in his words, “as a response to institutional changes surrounding the MRC”. If you visit the MRC after Thanksgiving, you will find just one remaining permanent staff member, Khalid Taylor (‘17), plus the interim director (and Dean) Adrian Bautista. There has been no move by the administration to fill these positions; no agency has been hired to assist in a candidate search. Oberlin is not seeking to fill any positions that are not “required” for the college’s day-to-day operation.

Does this remind you of something? Last fall, Isabella Moreno vacated her position as Director of the Office of Disability Services/Disability Resources (ODS), allegedly due to being overworked and under supported. Nearly a month later, Monique Bergdorf was appointed as interim director. Student action spurred the college on a lengthy search for a permanent replacement, a position that proved difficult to fill in part because of the less-than-competitive compensation offered. As with the recent restructuring of the MRC, the dissolution of ODS and subsequent failure to meaningfully revive the office until late spring of 2018 sparked similar outrage over financial austerity and raised questions about the college’s treatment of vital professional staff. Moreover, as with the MRC, the sudden shrinkage of ODS and accompanying lack of support harmed students, some leaving Oberlin for good.

I do not mean to over generalize, nor would I presume to place undue meaning on individual staff’s complex reasons for moving on from Oberlin, but the departure of five individuals in such a narrow window is indicative of something larger. This pattern of departures and failures to rehire suggest a lack of administrative of support for professional staff; a standard of neglect that causes direct harm to students. The folks employed in these professional support jobs are mostly young, they are closer to us in age, background, and belief than much of the college administration, and act as vital advocates and links between us and them.

So why are they leaving? Why aren’t they being replaced? Are they being overburdened as positions are eliminated and permanently vacated? Are their concerns being respected by the administration? Are they being adequately compensated, supported, and mentored as young professionals in their fields? The effects of their departure is clear. Long -term and short term advocacy projects are neglected, institutional memory flounders, individual and student group support becomes more difficult. Who will be most affected by resources stretched so thin?

The MRC’s work with and on behalf of undocumented and first generation students, queer students, and students with disabilities, and students of color in particular is what is fundamentally at risk here. I appeal to white students, and white queer students especially, to reflect on what issues we get upset and vocal about and why. Why did we get so upset about ODS shrinking last year? Why has there been relative silence about the MRC from white students?

On my part, I have noticed a trend of some white, wealthy, able bodied queers paying lip service to the MRC without ever actually visiting the blue house or engaging meaningfully with its programming. And that’s okay, if you don’t need the MRC, you don’t have to use it. But I would argue you do have to actively support it in this dire time, the same way you did ODS. Do you remember, white queers, posting on your instagram stories about emailing administrators to save ODS last fall? Do you remember texting your legacy parents to tell them to email too? Do that again, but for the MRC.

Whether or not you personally have relied on the MRC (or ODS, or Res Ed…) for support, it is important to recognize the necessity of these departments and their exceptionally hard working staff. It is important to vocalize this to administrators. Administrators might tell you to take it up with the Academic Administrative Program Review (AAPR), and yes, contacting the committee to voice concerns about the MRC is vital, and the influence of this committee and the shadowy firm behind it should not be ignored. However, it should be noted that it was student engagement with administrators-- not the AAPR --that lead to action (albeit tepid action) on ODS issues last year.

I would also encourage you to speak to the professional support staff and faculty (especially those not on a tenure track!) in your life about their experience working here to get a better understanding of our shared interests and hopefully begin to answer some of the questions posed in this article; I would love some answers.

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