Oberlin College’s troubles started in November 2016 when a black student tried to buy a bottle of liquor from Gibson’s Food Mart & Bakery using a fake ID. The clerk noticed he was attempting to conceal two other bottles, the student ran, the clerk chased and tackled him, two other black students got involved, and the police arrested the three students.
Sounds like a pretty open-shut case of robbery and using a fake ID, right? Well, Oberlin didn’t think so. Hundreds of students protested Gibson’s, accusing the bakery of racial discrimination. But it went beyond that: the school suspended a deal it had with Gibson’s to use its baked goods in dining halls and multiple faculty apparently distributed a flyer reading “DON’T BUY,” “this is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”
Well, Oberlin police found that only six out of 40 adults arrested for shoplifting from the bakery were black, the three students involved in the 2016 incident plead guilty to charges and said they were not the targets of racism, and the school found itself on the receiving end of a libel lawsuit. A judge originally ordered Oberlin to shell out $44 million, but that amount was lowered to $25 million due to caps on damages, reported Campus Reform.
Oberlin president Carmen Twillie Ambar said “What does it mean for how a college might think about how it might have to constrain speech, put controls around speech, for fear that it might be held responsible in these pretty significant ways?”
And fair enough, free speech is important. But there’s a big difference between stating what you honestly believe to be fact and deliberately spreading fiction, especially when the mere whisper of the word “racist” nowadays, however unsubstantiated, can destroy someone’s career in a heartbeat.