Scrapbooks and Social Awareness: A Self-Curated History of the Oberlin YWCA

Part 1: Domestic Arts     |     Part 2: Student-Faculty Discussions
Part 3: Career Symposia     |     Part 4: Interracial Relations

Introduction     |     Document 8: Petition Against Poll Tax     |     Document 9: Survey from National YWCA     |     Document 10: Brochure Diversity    |     Document 11: Interracial Committees     |     Document 12: Glee Club Incident

Document 11: Interracial Committees

Title: Report of the Interracial Committee

Author: Oberlin College Student Senate

Date: 1946

Location: 1945-46 YWCA Scrapbook, RG 29, Series II, Box 4, O. C. A.

Document Type: Typed Document



This document is an informal report which summarized past actions and inaction of the College on interracial issues. Likely this document circulated to contextualize the 1946 Interracial Committee of Student Senate, which formed to address growing pressure from organizations like YWCA in previous years. Elizabeth Gladys Blakesley, YWCA Secretary from 1944 to 1955, served on the committee.


YWCA wrote a statement on interracial tolerance for the College to publish earlier that year. The College declined to publish the statement, asserting that the College should not take a public stance on interpersonal relationships between students. The Interracial Committee nonetheless called for hiring Black faculty and Black history courses, two lasting student demands.


This document is also transcribed in Roland Baumann’s Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010).


Original                       Both                    Transcription



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On interracial affairs Oberlin has traditionally taken a leading liberal stand, and we are proud that her ideals are respected and known by progressive thinkers throughout the world.

According to these ideals, all practices which are restrictive and discriminatory on the basis of race or faith breed suspicion, violate the precept of justice, and deny the principles of democracy upon which Oberlin was founded.

According to these ideals, Oberlin’s customs and policies must permit its individual members, regardless of their race or creed, to meet and associate freely and to form friendships naturally.

These ideals were expressed in 1851 by Dr. Henry Crawford,[1]            , [sic] in a letter to a student applying for admission to Oberlin:[2]

“The white and colored students associate together in this college very much as they choose. Our doctrine is that mind and heart, not color, make the man and the woman too. We hold that neither men nor women are much the better or much the worse for their skin. Our great business here is to educate mind and heart, and we should deem ourselves to have small cause to be proud of our successs [sic] if we fail to eradicate, in no long time, the notion that nature had made any such difference between the colored and the white classes that it would be wrong, for either to associate with the other as beings of common origin and a common nature. We believe in treating men according to their intrinsic merits – not according to the distinctions over which they can have no control. If you are a young gentlemen of color, you may expect to be treated here according to your real merit; and if white, you need not expect to fare better than this.

“In this college colored and white students of the same sex walk together when both are agreed to do so – not otherwise. They eat together if both prefer it, or if neither chooses to eat elsewhere. They meet in the same classes for recitation if they happen to be studying the same branches, at the same stage of progress. They worship together before the same common Father, – that is, if they both have the heart to worship at all.”*


To this statement Mr. Robert Fletcher has added:


“This is an accurate statement, except that it should have been made clear that there was no special bar to association of white and colored students of the opposite sexes.”*


This tradition is being continued in some respects. All student All students [sic] are granted scholarships and other financial aid xxxx [sic] on an equal basis and participate to other in [sic] extra-curricular activities. All groups eat in the same dining-halls and live in the same dormitories. There have also been instances of interracial rooming bother [both] in men’s and women’s dormitories.

However, several years ago there were student and staff members who thought that Oberlin was not progressing/ [sic] [inserted above the line: in] the direction indicated by its tradition. And in December of 1942 a special committee was appointed by the Students Council to investigate discrimination against Negroes


*Professor Robert Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College

Vol. 2, p. 526-527.[3]


on campus. The investigators, whose findings are contained in the Paul Maier-Al Gordon Report, recommended to the Student Council that it request from the college a clear Statement of policy. In reply to that request the following statement was issued Jan. 6, 1943:

“Oberlin College has not and should not have any resolutions or policy with regard to relationships between members of its student body who belond [belong] to different racial groups.”

“Personal and social relationships are in general individual matters, and it is in general impossible to formulate regulations and plicies [policies] which will satisfactorily cover such relationships.

“The Deans have necessarily the responsibility of giving advice in individual cases when it seems wise to do so; some rulings are made in accordance with procedures which apply to all students, and may be appealed if the student or students concerned so desire.”

The studies of annew [sic] committee formed in 1946 indicate that there continue to be instances of inconsistency and injustice in administrative counseling. The cases cited below are not only unfortunate in themselves, but have also contributed to undesirable undercurrents of suspicions and insecurity among students of both minority and majority groups in their relationships with each other, and have caused embarrassment to students who came to Oberlin because they assumed the perpetuation of the progressive interracial policy which is its heritage and for which it is known. The 1943 statement quoted above in inadequate to the extent that it has allowed for these occurences [sic], by not making clear to students and administrative officials, including house directors, what pracitices [sic] shall be permitted.

Therefore, the committee urges the adoption of an explicit and positive statements of policy on interracial affairs.

In view of the increasing social stress in the world today, it is very fitting that a partof [sic] Oberlin’s “….statement of the ‘Aims with reference to its students’ have been formulated as follows: “…To prepare them for intelligent, effective, and loyal participation in the like of the family, community, nation, and the international order.” (Oberlin’s College Catalogue pp. 8-9)

In the large scope of world affairs, the UN is working to realize this purpose. The national Y.W.C.A. has adopted an interracial charter, (which the Oberlin Y.W.C.A. has also accepted.) because “…Today, racial tensions threaten not only the well-being of our communities but also the possibility of a peaceful world” (Quote from the national Interracial Charter).[4] The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America has also renounced segregation in a formal proposal which emphasizes united action “for a non-segregated church and a non-segregated society.” (Fed Council Bulletin, vol. XXIX, no. 4. April, 1946, p.12.)[5] As Oberlin seeks to advance with the progressives of the times, racial issues must be freed squarely and constructively, here, on the small scale, as they should be in the large. Our college should take steps to show, simply and sure, that elimination of discrimination is, beyond doubt, possible of attainment, by giving an opportunity to students to witness and take part in a kind of living wherein complete interracial friendliness and understanding can be taken for granted.

To this end the committee proposes the acceptance of this policy:

  1. Through its publicity the college shall endeavor to make clear to prospective students and their families that Oberlin takes pride in her interracial community of students, who live, work and play together.
  2. It is to be understood by students, their families, such as Oberlin, xxxxxxx [sic] interracial friendships, interracial interracial [sic] dating and interracial rooming may be a natural result, and therefore these practices shall be subject to no interference, actual or implied, by any college official except as there is an infringement of written regulations toverning [governing] all students.
  3. Uniform room drawing regulations shall direct the placement of all students living in college dormitories.
  4. Since Oberlin has the advantage of possessing an interracial student body, freshmen who belong to different minority groups shall be scattered throughout the freshman dormitories on campus so that as many students as possible may share in interracial living.
  5. In order that the ideals expressed in this policy may truly be called Oberlin’s ideals, only those individuals who thoroughly understand and act according to this policy shall be given employment by the college. This is particularly important in regard to house directors, who because of their position directly or indirectly effect [sic] the lives of the students.
  6. The framers and supporters of this policy commend the college for its proposed establishment of a Far Eastern Department, and for the addition to the faculty xx [sic] temporarily of the distinguished Oriental scholar, Dr. Mei,[6] to lecture on Chinese Philosophy. We feel, however, that Oberlin students should also be provided with the opportunity to gain an adequate understanding of their own American culture, of which the Negro is a vital part. Therefore we advocate:
    1. That new courses be added and present courses, such as American History, be enlarged to include with the proper emphasis the study of Negro history, culture, and thought, and to show, as Carl F. Wittke[7] has done in his book, We Who Built America, the profound effect of diverse cultures upon American xxxxxx [sic] civilization; and
    2. That the college seriously endeavor to secure qualified members of minority groups, particularly Negroes, to fill faculty positions as they become vacant, a practice that is already being followed in other leading institutions such as Columbia, NYU, Wisconsin, Smith, etc.
  7. Positions above the maintenance level (i.e. library clerks, office workers, house directors, dietitians, etc.) shall be open impartially to qualified members of minority as well as majority groups.
  8. To relieve the administration of some of the extra burden which the administration of this policy would place upon them, there shall be established a special mediating committee, composed of an equal number of faculty members and students, whose duty it shall be to hear, to investigate, and if action is deemed necessary, to refer to the Deans any problems of an interracial character that may arise in the College, and whose duty it shall also be to make every effort possible to advance and encourage interracial understanding and harmony in Oberlin. The detailed mechanics of such a committee should be left to the discretion of the Student Council. However the advocates of this policy suggest that the committee consist of 4 or 6 members who shall serve staggered terms of two years each and whose student members shall be appointed by the Student Council.


[1] Reverend Henry Cowles (1803-1881), according to Robert Fletcher, as cited from Oberlin Evangelist on 10 September 1851. Cowles was a Biblical scholar, anti-slavery activist, and co-founder of the Oberlin Theological Department. From 1848 to 1862 Cowles edited Oberlin Evangelist (Henry Cowles Finding Guide, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin College, accessed 27 July 2016, Source).

[2] The student asked, “I wish to know if the colored students associated with the whites on all occasions, if they recite in the same class and dine at the same table. There is an opinion prevalent in this community that students are obliged by the rules of the [Oberlin Collegiate] Institute to mingle with the colored population farther than is right with the differences nature has made between the two classes” (Robert Fletcher, A history of Oberlin College from its foundation through the Civil War (Ohio: Oberlin College, 1943), 526).

[3] Footnote from original transcription.

[4] This quote is from the opening of the Interracial Charter. In addition to claiming that racial justice would make for “a peaceful world,” the writers of the Charter also reminded YWCA women of their religious obligation to combat racism, urging them to pass the recommendations in order to help “[build] a society nearer to the Kingdom of God” and “to pioneer in an interracial experience that shall be increasingly democratic and Christian” (James F. Findlay, Church People in the Struggle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 163).

[5] In March 1946, the Federal Council of Churches first officially announced their anti-segregation policy. The Student Senate’s citation here is likely a reference to a quotation about the policy in the FCC’s Council Bulletin (James F. Findlay, Church People in the Struggle, 14).

[6] Y. P. Mei graduated from Oberlin in 1924. He was acting Principal of Ming Hsien Schools from in 1936, the missionary school created by Oberlin students in Shansi, China. See more of Oberlin College Archives Shansi collection here.

[7] Professor of History and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin College, an son of a German immigrant. His book, We Who Built America explored nativism, immigration restriction laws, and the contributions of the various immigrant communities through the chronology of waves. In the introduction, Wittke wrote, “The evidence of the great significance of immigration in the development of American civilization is everywhere apparent, although not until comparatively recently have either scholars or the general public concerned themselves seriously with it” (Carl Wittke, We Who Built America (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1939), xii).