For the second time in less than a week, Oberlin College has released a letter to its community regarding the Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit.
Wednesday’s letter from college president Carmen Twillie Ambar, sent to Oberlin alumni, faculty and staff, was an introduction to a set of frequently asked questions the college is providing to “bring to the fore the facts” of the case.
“We will have much more to say as this process moves forward, and we will continue to listen closely to your questions, addressing them as best we can,” Twillie Ambar wrote in the letter. “More information will follow as we provide you with an opportunity in the coming days to ask questions in real time through our Phonecast technology.”
The rift between the bakery and college started in November 2016, after a student attempted to buy alcohol with a fake ID and shoplift from the storefront. Bakery employee Allyn D. Gibson, son of the bakery’s owner, followed the student out of the store and the two got into a physical altercation, with two other students became involved in.
Police stated when they arrived the three students were hitting Allyn Gibson while he was on the ground. Allyn Gibson is white and the three students involved are black, which sparked claims during student protests that Gibson’s Bakery was racist.
The students were arrested and pleaded guilty in August 2017 to misdemeanor charges, acknowledging in court that Allyn D. Gibson was within his right to detain the shoplifter and that his actions were not racially motivated.
Students protested outside Gibson’s Bakery for two days after the incident, passing out flyers urging people to boycott the bakery and alleging that the business engaged in racial profiling. Following student protests, a boycott of the business and a brief cease in business relations between the college and bakery, the family filed a civil suit against the college in November 2017.
Wednesday’s statement stands by the students’ constitutional right to protest the bakery.
The FAQ attached to the letter outlines the college’s explanation of the initial incident and its involvement in student protests that sparked the lawsuit, which claim the college and certain administrators defamed the business.
Following the protest, the FAQ states, the college offered to issue a joint statement with the Gibson family and attempted to settle the matter out of court, but the family did not accept either offer.
The statement also explains it is college policy for Meredith Raimondo, the college’s vice president and dean of students, to be present at all protests to ensure student safety, but that was the extent of her involvement.
It admits some senior administrators and faculty used “unprofessional language” in text messages and emails after the protest, and disciplinary action was taken. In court filings, an associate professor stated the protests “smear the brand” of the bakery had been achieved. Other emails released during the lawsuit stated some faculty found the focus of students’ protest misguided, and another internal communication found Raimondo allegedly “threatened to weaponize the student body” against a professor critical of the boycott of Gibson’s.
The college states it did not defame or libel the Gibson family, and was not part of the student senate resolution or protest flyers subject to the civil suit. The college also does not condone shoplifting, it states, and college officials did not ask the bakery or other area businesses to turn students accused of shoplifting over to college staff rather than Oberlin police.
Addressing the civil suit’s verdict, the FAQ states the college respects the jury’s service, but does not believe it applied legal precedent to the case.
Oberlin College Director of Media Relations said the college has not decided if it will appeal the verdict. The FAQ states its options include an appeal and it will communicate its next steps.
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