College Cancels Classes After KKK Robe Spotted on Campus

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 4 2013 1:17 PM

Oberlin College Cancels Classes Amid String of Racial Incidents

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A Ku Klux Klan robe on exibit as part of the "American I AM: The African Imprint" at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Karin Zeitvogel/AFP/Getty Images

[UPDATE: Police now say the person that appeared to be wearing the KKK hood may have just been a woman wrapped in a blanket.]

Oberlin College canceled classes Monday after someone reported spotting a person walking on campus wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan-like hooded robe, the latest in a monthlong string of racial incidents on the campus of a college that was among the first in the nation to begin regularly admitting black students nearly two centuries ago.

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School officials say that security and local police are investigating the report and that all classes and "nonessential activities" on campus have been suspended in order to hold a schoolwide discussion on the "challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks." Here's a snippet of the email sent to students today:

"We are here to notify you all that there has been yet another bias and racist event on campus. A person wearing KKK regalia was spotted on South Campus around midnight near the ELC and South. This has been another event in a string of several reflecting a terrible pattern of racism, prejudice, queerphobia, anti-semitism and other bias attacks that are happening on Oberlin's campus. At this time, advocacy, support and solidarity are necessary emotionally, physically and spiritually."

According to the Oberlin Review, the student-run campus newspaper, there have been at least a half-dozen reported incidents involving hate speech and vandalism since early February, including the scrawling of "nigger" on Black History Month materials, writing "Whites Only" above a school water fountain, and drawing a swastika on an LGBTQ poster. (Full list here.)

Oberlin was founded in 1833 and would become a stop on the Underground Railroad during the 1800s. While the school wasn't the first to admit a black student, it became the first to establish race-blind admissions in 1835 and to grant a degree to an African-American woman in 1862, according to the Oberlin Heritage Center.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.