The Clash of Identities

An editorial in my college alumni magazine, which I hereby attempt to deconstruct.  My thoughts are in brown.


“As in semesters past, the northeast wing of South Hall’s second floor — a space the Office of Residential Education has designated “all female” — is reserved for female students in search of peace of mind and a safe haven from a patriarchal campus and society.”

The insertion of the value-laden adjective “patriarchal” makes it clear from the outset that the author has a distinct point of view which, from my point of view, signals a hypersensitivity to all real and imagined slights.  I suppose that she thought that this characterization of the campus at large would strengthen her argument but I consider it to be an indicator of maladjustment projected as the fault of the world around her.

“At the beginning of this module, without prior warning or a clear reason, ResEd decided to place four cis male students into a vacant quad on the same hall.”

Having attended college before coed dorms I find it ironic that this is a problem.  It just seems obvious to me that there should be a single-gender space around one’s living quarters to which one can escape from the additional responsibilities of a mixed-gender environment.  That this hard-fought reform is now resisted with such new-found pejoratives as “cis” is almost funny.  I also can’t help but suspect that the author would have some difficulty reconciling these sentences with her stance on the current discussion about transsexuals and public restrooms.

“While the men have been respectful of the shared space, they should have been placed in rooms elsewhere. College sophomore Alana Sheppard, along with her roommate and floormates who deliberately sought asylum on the floor for personal reasons, are now left feeling unsafe in their own living space. To add insult to injury, they have received few answers from ResEd representatives. ResEd also did not respond to the Review’s request for comment.

So the offending men have behaved without offense and those offended are offended for “personal reasons.”  As an old fart I am having difficulty with a world in which every personal sensitivity is supposed to be sensed, respected, and adapted to by everyone else.  If I read earlier editorials correctly, I am expected as an undergraduate at Oberlin these days to intuit where on the sexual spectrum (or plane, or whatever geometry the classes of sexuality fall) and use the preferred pronoun for that type of sexual orientation.

In my world, each person is unique and respected as such, which obviates the need to carefully and respectfully place them in a labelled category for one or more of their personal characteristics.

“Sheppard sent an extensive and personal email to ResEd regarding the situation and its effect on her well-being. “We were confused as to why there were men living on this hall … I sent [ResEd] an email basically just saying, ‘I’m really confused as to why they are men on this hall.’ I even told them personal, vulnerable information about why I was moving there. It’s not about their behavior, it’s that I moved here to not live with men,” Sheppard said. A representative responded curtly to her and to each of her friends who had also contacted them.”


So you complained and did not immediately get your way, as if your sensitivities were the only priority in the responsibilities of ResEd.   I hate to break it to you: in life you do not always get it your way in a world of many competing interests.  Get over it.

“After receiving a less-than-courteous response to her inquiry, Sheppard then contacted Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Housing Rebecca Mosely, who Sheppard was told had experience in handling similar issues in theme halls and the three first-year dorms. Mosely apologized to Sheppard for the inconvenience, explaining that ResEd had mistakenly placed the men in the women’s hall, but added that moving the students once again would constitute an injustice to the four men. In prioritizing the comfort of the four male students, ResEd not only invalidated its own designation of the floor as women-only but also disregarded the right to security of every student who chose to live on the hall.”

The men (per the first paragraph) so not constitute a threat to the security of the the students living on the hall.  What, then is the threat?  The previous paragraphs provide evidence for an imagined threat but no more.

“There is no excuse for ResEd’s failure to alert the residents of a safe space hall when a new neighbor’s identity may violate the intended safety of the hall. Theme housing is awarded via application — anything from Movie Hall in Langston Hall to Baldwin Cottage, the women and trans safe space, requires review by the faculty and staff in charge of that living space.”

What to do with this one????  The identity of one perfectly courteous and civil person is a threat to another?  Did you fall off the PC wagon here?  Per decades of diversity training let me remind you that, if their identity threatens you then you had best look inside your self for bias and bigotry.

“By failing to provide appropriate housing for students with specific needs, ResEd continues to prioritize logistical efficiency over the mental health and well-being of all students living on campus.”

You have provided no evidence for this except for a single instance in which a claimed mental health problem lost to logistical efficiency.  The existence of your hall (until the men moved in) suggests that the mental health issues of the residents do trump logistics sometimes as well.

“This mishap points to a bigger accountability problem within ResEd. Sheppard notes that while Mosely claimed that there weren’t any other rooms available to the male students, a friend of Sheppard’s received an email containing a list of rooms available in South Hall upon applying to move.

“Why some students seem to be favored over others is unclear, but the pattern persists year after year. As part of a residential campus that prides itself on its student community and cooperative living, ResEd should be held accountable for making sure every student’s requests for a safe and comfortable living environment are met.”

Just guessing, but if all Oberlin students have sensibilities as finely tuned as this crowd I doubt that the objective is obtainable.

There is no basis for the blanket statement that “some students are favored” persistently — except perhaps a perpetual sense of one’s own unsatisfied entitlement.

“In addition, ResEd must respond to these requests even if residential problems arise that are outside its control. In recent years, several lounges have been converted to temporary open triples or open quads to accommodate an influx of students. Significantly, Old Barrows, the women and trans safe space housing co-op, is in danger of being shut down in the next several years. This change will mean that there will be fewer safe spaces for women and trans students on campus. ResEd needs to enforce safe spaces more effectively to ensure that all students feel safe living in their assigned rooms.”

I am really having a hard time with your understanding of the need for a safe space for trans without understanding that normal women (i.e. the 95%+ who are not bi- or trans- or …) do not feel safe when a trans equipped as a male is permitted to use their bathroom.