Bill Fazekas: I have to confess, I was not aware of this. I knew there was a general lack of information, but at that point it didn’t even touch me directly.
Susan Hart: I was definitely not aware of the non-discrimination clause, but I was very aware on a subconscious level of the imagery of Oberlin, which was very clear in my mind. I can remember certain pictures in brochures and the kind of literature they give prospective students. Looking back on it, it was totally queer; it was definitely a draw for me, though at the time I was unable to identify it as such.
Doug Braun: […] I grew up in Kipton, which is three miles west of Oberlin, and went to Firelands High School, which is a country kids’ school. For me Oberlin had an aura for all the people; it was something attached there, all the older gay people here. It just sort of connected with something inside, and a friend of mine was applying to Oberlin. I think I was afraid I missed the deadline for applying. I think it might have been subconscious (missing the deadline), but I ended up going to Case Western Reserve for two years and then coming back to Oberlin. By then I had worked through some things, but not everything. I knew I would be more comfortable here. I got the first catalog and I started reading through it. And the first thing I saw was the non-discrimination clause, and I thought, “Wow!” Do you guys remember when it got moved to the back of the catalog?
Nori Mandell: Oo, I remember fighting somebody at that rally. I was wearing a purple gay and lesbian tee-shirt and I was really mad. I went into some faculty offices with some other people who argued about it being moved. Do you know where it was?
Andy Cemelli: It was in the front. When I got the course catalog we had those little wheat fronds across it.
Beth DeSombre: This was the course catalog?
Andy Cemelli: This was everything. They all had these little wheat fronds on it, but not the clause in the front of the course catalog. I don’t know whether they had a Viewbook then. I’m sure they probably do now, but when I got my materials, it was the course catalog. In the very beginning of it was this long thing about Oberlin and its history and philosophy. It fit in very much with when I got here and saw people in pajamas going to class. You could be whoever you wanted to be. And along with that long thing about how Oberlin was welcoming all kinds of people and whoever you wanted to be was this non-discrimination clause. It was set apart; it may have been on page one or page two. The argument for moving it was that we were frightening off too many white straight football players.
Beth DeSombre: Did somebody actually make that argument to you or is this supposition?
Andy Cemelli: I heard it through people who were really committed. It got moved to page 78, way in the back. It was sort of a little tag like, “Oh, by the way, we don’t discriminate on any of these things, so don’t worry about it.”
Beth DeSombre: Was this after Fred Starr was here or before?
Andy Cemelli: Probably after, I would have to say. I remember this being one of the major points of controversy towards the discussion and mobilization one year at our Gay Union meetings on Tuesday nights.
Andrew Deppe: I remember it, too, when I came here my first year or so, when Emil Danenberg was still alive — I think he died freshman year. It was either 1982-1983 or 1983-1984 that this became a big issue.
Doug Braun: It was 1982-1983.
Andrew Deppe: It was really a motivator. I think it got people together to say, “Hey, this is an important part of our course catalog, our image, how we want to come across to people. Keep it in there; keep it up front.”
Terry Maroney: I came in right as a lot of you were going out in the fall of ‘85. I think, like other people said, I wasn’t aware of there being a non-discrimination clause in terms of sexual orientation. The whole reason I chose Oberlin was because of my image of it as a radical, liberal place where I could really do what I wanted. I think subconsciously that was probably part of it, but I remember when I came on campus I was very much in the dark about lesbian and gay stuff. I was totally in the closet.
My introduction to gay and lesbian life at Oberlin was in my freshman orientation. There was a real-instant-like, group-bonding-amoeba thing, where you are just like everybody. You traveled in this pack; there were a couple of sophomores that were CRO’s, and they took it upon themselves to be our official Oberlin tour guides. They were actually kind of twits. One sophomore was leading a whole pack of us freshman to an off-campus party. We were walking up by Mallory on the way. And I remember this guy pointing at Mallory and looking at me and saying, “That is Mallory. That is where all the lesbians are on campus.” His intent in saying this was, “Watch out for this place. This is where all these horrible lesbians are.” I was just staring at it, captivated by what he had said. I took a mental photograph, and I remember walking by staring at the windows. My brain captured this information. I knew it was very important information.
Throughout my first year whenever I had occasion to walk by there, I would walk real slow and try desperately to see somebody or something through the windows. They probably thought I was losing it; I would sort of hang out there to see who came out the door and see if I could see people go in and out. I think that was the start. It was interesting because the way I was introduced to that was really in a pretty homophobic way. People were saying, “Watch out for that; stay away.”
Throughout that year I was going through the same experience a lot of people in my class were. That part of Women’s Studies was really beginning to pick up and take off the ground; the department was developing majors. I started my second semester taking a Women’s Studies course and came out as a feminist. I wasn’t ready to come out as a lesbian, but I sort of became super-feminist right away. It really threw my whole life into turmoil, but I needed it. That is what I needed to happen through that. Becoming really involved in Women’s Studies, eventually I was able to come out. Does anybody else have the memory of early Women’s Studies classes where literally the room was divided in half? There were straight women on one side of the room and lesbian women on the other side of the room. There were two groups. Whenever we attempted a discussion, it was so clear, it was like black and white, the lesbian perspective and the straight.
Nori Mandell: I remember it so painfully because I was assumed to be of the straight-woman perspective in that class. I was assigned to a group project with one of the radical lesbians in that class. I was very excited about this, but she immediately assumed that we would present two different sides of the issue, that she would be the lesbian side and I would be the other side. I was just crushed by that. This first class was very important to me. It was called, `Woman, Man and Nature.’ It was just a vivid memory for me, and there was a feeling that the lesbian feminists were the cool ones.