Ohio's Oberlin College has been a bastion of liberal activism virtually since its founding in 1833. It was the first interracial and first coeducational college in the US, and was once even home to a stop on the Underground Railroad.
But in the heady modern political climate, Oberlin is known less for helping ferry runaway slaves to freedom in Canada, and more for an activist community that has condemned cafeteria food offerings as racist (because they're not authentic), questioned the value of teaching the western canon and pushed the necessity of safe spaces. One black female professor provoked a controversy in 2016 after she was fired for making incendiary statements like blaming Israel for 9/11. Soon, the school's black student union was condemning the school as an "unethical institution" and demanding that the professor be given tenure.
But while these incidents may have tarnished the school's reputation, reinforcing its reputation as a bastion of over-privileged trust-funders, the college will now face a very real cost after losing a legal battle with a local bakery that has been a pillar of the downtown business community since it opened more than 100 years ago, according to the Washington Post.
Gibson's, a bakery known for its wheat donuts and apple fritters, has for decades held a standing contract to supply baked goods for university functions. But the school cut ties with Gibson's after an incident where a young black student was caught trying to shoplift a few bottles of wine.
A scuffle ensued, and ended with the student's arrest and arraignment on a robbery charge.
When Aladin arrived at the front of the store, Gibson, 32 at the time, told the student that he was contacting the police, saying he had seen him slip two bottles of wine under his clothes. When he pulled out his phone to take a picture, according to a police report, Aladin slapped it away, causing it to strike Gibson’s face.
Gibson followed the student from the store, where they began exchanging blows across the street, which is campus property. Police said they arrived to find Gibson on his back, with Aladin, joined by two friends, punching and kicking him. All three were charged, Aladin with robbery and his friends with assault.
Soon, the school's students, led by the Black Student Union, had branded Gibson's a "RACIST" establishment.
Students encouraged a boycott of the establishment, which is owned by Gibson’s father, David R. Gibson, and his grandfather, also named Allyn.
"A member of our community was assaulted by the owner of this establishment yesterday," read a flier distributed outside the bakery, calling Gibson’s a "RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION." The leaflet recommended 10 rival businesses where patrons could go instead.
The school followed up by suspending its Gibson's order (though it was later quietly reinstated). But for Gibson's, the damage had already been done, and small business decided to pursue a civil complaint against the school and a senior administrator.
For Gibson’s owners, that did not settle the matter. In November 2017, they filed a civil complaint against Oberlin in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. Accusing the college of lending support to the protests, the Gibson family sued the institution, as well as Raimondo, for libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and trespass.
The owners argued that college leaders facilitated the "illegal defamation and economic boycott" by helping students copy and distribute the fliers, as well as joining them at protest actions and allowing them to skip class and gain credit to continue their campaign. According to the complaint, a Facebook post by an Oberlin academic department stated, "Gibson’s has been bad for decades, their dislike of Black people is palpable. Their food is rotten and they profile Black students. NO MORE!"
"Gibson’s Bakery has suffered a severe and sustained loss of student, professor, administrative, and college department business," the complaint argued. It also pointed to a "severe emotional and physical toll" on the family. Their home had been damaged, they claimed, and their car tires punctured.
Gibson's ended up winning an $11 million judgment.
It just shows how sometimes jumping to conclusions doesn't pay.