OBERLIN, Ohio - An activist group at Oberlin College in northern Ohio is speaking out against what they say is a secret list maintained by the college that bars certain people from campus, sometimes without their knowledge.
The group at the liberal arts college of about 3,000 students claims that people who get on the list find themselves banished from campus, which encompasses part of the historic downtown. The group complains that some people don't know they are on the list or what they did to get there.
A group comprised of students, former students and Oberlin residents have begun a campaign to modify the college's trespassing policy, which dates back to the 1970s. According to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, an overflow crowd of more than 100 jammed the Oberlin Public Library on Wednesday night to attend what turned into a lively public forum on the issue.
College spokesman Scott Wargo on Thursday acknowledged that the names of people who have been barred from campus for various reasons are maintained in a database. However, he said there is no public list of barred individuals, and people who are barred are notified.
"We understand the concerns, and we're listening to (the group)," Wargo said. "We want to make things more transparent. We always recognize that we can do things better. We're here to listen to them. From that meeting, we're going to take those concerns and issues, and work with the group and see what we can do to ... so there's better understanding and better clarity."
Wargo said he didn't know how many people have been barred from the campus.
Shane Brendes, a 1996 Oberlin College graduate, said he's been on the list for two years.
"I was put on the no trespass list and banished without knowing what the charge was," Brendes said. "How could I defend myself?"
He said an attorney helped him learn that one person was frightened of him.
"But I still have not been given an explanation of what I did," he said. "This breaks my heart. ... I feel like I'm living in the Soviet Union."
Lyle Kash, spokesman for the One Town Campaign, which organized the meeting, said one problem is that the database of barred individuals is not open to public scrutiny.
Majorie Burton, Oberlin's director of safety and security, told The (Elyria) Chronicle-Telegram that the policy is legal under Ohio's trespassing laws. She said commission of crimes such as assaults or robberies could result in someone being barred, but people who have violated college policies also could end up banished from campus.
Kash said there would be future meetings to continue to discuss the issue.