Oberlin College, known as much for ardent liberalism as for academic excellence, canceled classes on Monday and convened a "day of solidarity" instead, after a person wearing a robe and hood appeared near its Afrikan Heritage House early Monday morning in the latest in a string of what it described as hate-related incidents and vandalism.
In the last month, a number of racist and antigay messages have been left around campus, a jarring incongruity in a place with the liberal political leanings and traditions of Oberlin, a school of 2,800 students in Ohio, about 30 miles southwest of Cleveland. Guides to colleges routinely list it as among the most liberal, activist and gay-friendly schools in the country.
The sighting of the person on Monday, "in addition to the series of other hate-related incidents on campus, has precipitated our decision to suspend formal classes and all nonessential activities for today, Monday, March 4, 2013, and gather for a series of discussions of the challenging issues that have faced our community in recent weeks," according to a statement issued by Marvin Krislov, Oberlin's president, and three college deans.
A number of the incidents are being investigated by the college's security staff and the Oberlin city police.
The incidents are deeply disturbing to students who saw the college as a protected universe, said Meredith Gadsby, the chair of the Afrikana Studies department, which hosted a teach-in at midday attended by about 300 students. "As inclusive as Oberlin has been historically and is at present, Oberlin also exists in the world," she said.
Dr. Gadsby said the bias incidents caused students to fear for their safety. One purpose of the teach-in was to make them aware of groups that have formed, some in the past 24 hours in dorms, to respond.
"They'll be addressing ways to publicly respond to the bias incidents with what I call positive propaganda and let people know, whoever the culprits are, that they're being watched, and people are taking care of themselves and each other," she said.
Other events scheduled for Monday included a demonstration and a convocation, as well as meetings of campus groups.
"I'm not sure why anyone is doing it, but those actions have made people uneasy and say we need to come together and discuss this," said Scott Wargo, an Oberlin spokesman.
Founded in 1833, Oberlin was one of the first colleges in the nation to educate women and men together, and one of the first to admit black students. Before the Civil War, it was an abolitionist hotbed and an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
Anne Trubek, an associate professor in the English department, said that in her 15 years at Oberlin there had been earlier bias incidents, but none as provocative as the current ones. "They were relatively minor events that would not be a large hullabaloo elsewhere, but because Oberlin is so attuned to these issues they get addressed very quickly,'' she said.education
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.