The following statement is from Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar:
Dear Members of the Oberlin Community,
By now many of you will have heard about the latest development in the Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit, a jury’s declaration of punitive damages against Oberlin. Let me be absolutely clear: This is not the final outcome. This is, in fact, just one step along the way of what may turn out to be a lengthy and complex legal process. I want to assure you that none of this will sway us from our core values. It will not distract, deter, or materially harm our educational mission, for today’s students or for generations to come.
We will take the time we need to thoughtfully consider the course that is in Oberlin’s best interests. I will update the community as we make these decisions. I am confident that when we resolve this matter, it will look substantially different than it looks today.
We are disappointed in the jury’s decisions and the fragmentary and sometimes distorted public discussion of this case. But we respect the integrity of the jury, and we value our relationship with the town and region that are our home. We will learn from this lawsuit as we build a stronger relationship with our neighbors.
This has been a remarkable year for the college and conservatory. There is unprecedented unity around an ambitious new vision for Oberlin. The work of fulfilling that vision is already underway. Long after this lawsuit has receded from memory, that work will shape Oberlin’s future. I appreciate the contributions so many of you have made, your perspective at this important time, and the commitment you have shown to what matters most for Oberlin.
A Lorain County jury deliberated only about two hours on Thursday before telling Oberlin College it owes a local family more than $33 million in punitive damages stemming from student demonstrations against the family’s bakery-market in November of 2016. That’s in addition to the $11 million already settled upon.
A member of the Gibson family stopped an African American student who was shoplifting in their store. The shoplifter later admitted to the crime.
In demonstrations afterwards, other students labeled the Gibsons as racist and portrayed their action as racially motivated.
The demonstrators demanded the school end a long-standing contract with the bakery to provide baked goods for a cafeteria there, and the college acquiesced, even though the evidence showed that administrators knew the family’s actions were not racially-motivated and after receiving messages from alumni and supporters of the Gibsons insisting the college intervene with the smear tactics of the students.
Jurors last week agreed with the family’s attorneys that the college helped facilitate the demonstrations which harmed both the Gibsons’ reputation and their business, and awarded the Gibsons $11 million in damages from the school.
On Wednesday, the same jury heard arguments in a punitive phase of the trial, during which the family’s attorneys told them it was important to send a message to all colleges and institutions across the country that actions have consequences.