Historical Documents – 1971 Alumni Luncheon Speech

Patrick Broome (OC 71)
May 22, 1971, Oberlin College Archives

Audio clip:

Patrick Broome was the president of the class of 1971 and a student involved in the formation of Oberlin Gay Liberation. At the May 1971 Alumni Luncheon, Broome followed a speech by Daniel Bradley (OC 21), who had congratulated Oberlin students for their political engagement, youthful energy, and “dreams” for a better world. Broome’s response, a critique of Oberlin’s liberalism, was punctuated by several outbursts from the audience; by reports, at least a few also walked out in protest. The speech, in its entirety:

Mr. Bradley, you use the word “dreams” in your speech—a very good speech in rightly pointing out the need for change. But I cannot accept your proposal of the nature of that change—perhaps because I cannot accept your idea of “dreams.” I look around and find a situation which seems to be closer to a continuing nightmare.

Four years ago my class came to Oberlin with a war in Vietnam already six years old—a war that has since spread to Cambodia and Laos. Four years ago Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, and the ghettos of Newark and Detroit were burning. Four years ago women and gays believed that their feelings of inadequacy were a problem of personal maladjustment. Oberlin then seemed a very good place to do something for those problems.

We came to Oberlin thinking that we could bring an end to the war in Indochina by supporting the right man for political office—we rallied behind McCarthy, McGovern, and Bobby Kennedy. We believed then that the racial problem was a southern problem: a problem of men like Lester Maddox and George Wallace, and that if we collectively loved our black brothers and joined the Oberlin Action for Civil Rights we would eventually overcome. We were still struggling to mold ourselves into the roles society expected of us as dominant male and passive female because no one ever suggested there was an alternative.

We have changed.

Now we realize that Vietnam is not a mistake, not an isolated incident, but the product of a general American imperialist policy. The exploitation of the lives and resources of the peoples of the world is inherent in the American system. Now we realize that racism in its most vicious forms is not fostered by individual or regional bigotry, but by national institutions which encourage unemployment, poor housing, and inadequate education for blacks and other minorities while loudly proclaiming that perhaps “black is beautiful.” Now we begin to see that our inability to accept traditional sex roles is not a matter of personal aberration, but a legitimate reaction to an oppressive system which defines and values people by their genitals.

Most important of all, we have begun to realize that the nightmare is a lot closer than Indochina of Memphis or Betty Friedan on the Mike Douglas Show. Oberlin itself, coasting on a reputation for “enlightened liberalism,” is no exception to the Great American Nightmare. It is an oppressive institution, a party to the war, racist, and sexist.

Oberlin actively participates in the war effort by opening its facilities to military recruiters under the banner of academic freedom—and then punishes those students who protest that policy. If the spectacle of students being gassed in Washington this month for protesting the war moved you, try to remember when Oberlin students were gassed on Main Street for protesting the representatives of that war invited here by the college. Oberlin, an essentially white school which dominates the town surrounding it, offers local blacks low-paying jobs as maids and janitors, making no serious effort to train them for better jobs. Oberlin awarded an honorary degree to a local shopkeeper because he hired a handful of blacks, but this year turned down Cesar Chavez for an honorary degree in favor of the second representative of a children’s T.V. show.

Oberlin invests not only in industries which profit directly from the war, but in industries which are based or have holdings in one of the most blatantly racist countries in the world: South Africa. The first co-educational college in the country seems to be incapable of finding anymore than a small minority of women qualified to serve as faculty members and administrators. Oberlin women are being educated to become the interesting, entertaining wives of Oberlin men. The college has done nothing to recognize the problems of the homosexual community on campus, and when the topic does come up in psych classes it is usually in a Martin Bieber context of homosexuality as a deviation from a desirable norm (Oberlinians are careful not to use the word “disease.”)

Oberlin can no longer hide itself as a neutral institution because there can be no neutral institutions—no exceptions for the glories of academic freedom—in a society based on war, racism, and sexism. Oberlin reflects the values of this country in its very structure. The men who run this country run Oberlin—men like Erwin Griswold [OC 25]. The values that support this country support this institution, and the “alienation” of the Oberlin student is a growing rejection of those values, a growing refusal to plug ourselves into a nightmare. We will no longer be satisfied with changes on the order of increased welfare payments or a new grading system. I’m sorry Mr. Bradley, but your new philosophy of the Liberal Arts College is not enough. We need a revolution.