Oberlin College KKK Sighting May Have Been a Mistake

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 5 2013 12:26 PM

Police Suggest College's KKK Robe Sighting May Have Really Been a Woman in a Blanket

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A Ku Klux Klan robe on exhibit at the National Geographic in Washington, D.C.

File photo by Karin Zeitvogel/AFP/Getty Images

A few updates to a story from yesterday about Oberlin College canceling classes after someone reported spotting a person walking on campus wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan-like hooded robe. Local police say they responded to the report, but weren't able to find anyone wearing the hard-to-miss KKK garb. They did, however, discover a female walking with a blanket wrapped around her, suggesting the very real possibility that the eyewitness was mistaken. The Chronicle-Telegram:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey said that authorities did find a pedestrian wrapped in a blanket. He said police interviewed another witness later in the day and that person also saw a female walking with a blanket. He said Oberlin police were contacted by campus security and interviewed the student who reported seeing the KKK outfit. McCloskey said police haven’t been able to substantiate the initial report, although that doesn’t mean it was wrong.
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The report of someone wearing a KKK robe near the college's Afrikan Heritage House was the final straw for school officials who had been dealing with a monthlong string of racial incidents on the campus. They quickly canceled classes in order to hold campus-wide events to discuss the matter, a decision that garnered national headlines yesterday.

Even if the KKK sighting turns out to have been a mistake, innocent or otherwise, it doesn't change the fact that the school has struggled in recent weeks to handle an outbreak of hate speech-related vandalism. According to the Oberlin Review, the student-run campus newspaper, there have been at least a half-dozen such incidents 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. Similar incidents were also reported on campus back in 2011. Still, it was clearly the reported KKK sighting, and not the vandalism, that left school officials feeling as though they had no choice but to take the drastic step of canceling classes.

According to McCloskey, the students behind the recent rash of vandalism have been caught. The Guardian:

McCloskey suggested that the apparent missighting may have been an innocent mistake. He also indicated that those responsible for the racist vandalism had now been caught and were being dealt with. "My understanding is that the individuals are college students and they have been identified. They are no longer on campus. The college is dealing with it internally, and we have been working in co-operation with the college."
He added: "Charges could be happening, depending on prosecutors' review. Our case file has been forwarded to prosecutors." Two students are thought to be behind the vandalism, but it is unclear if they were motivated by racial hatred, or—as has been suggested—were attempting a commentary on free speech.

Oberlin was founded in 1833 and was among the first in the nation to begin regularly admitting black students nearly two centuries ago. While the Ohio 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.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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