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Campus view in '84

By Ellen NicKenzie Lawson and Michon BostonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 1984



This June Ohio's Oberlin College will graduate more than 700 students. Among these will be Lisa Washington, Jill Foster, and Lisa Ridley. Born in the midst of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, these three seniors have not experienced segregated public schooling, ''Jim Crow'' in public accommodations, or a time when women could not vote. Nor is it unusual today to be a black woman college graduate: More than 600,000 have BA degrees.

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And yet even in 1984 these women view themselves as pioneers against racism and, to a lesser extent, sexism. As Lisa Ridley explains, ''There are still a lot of firsts - there's no shortage!''

When Miss Ridley, an economics major from Mequon, Wis., was invited into the honors program, she was unaware she might be the first black Oberlin student to complete economic honors. ''You stumble on these 'firsts' without even trying,'' she observes wryly. After graduation in June she will be a trainee in management information systems with the prestigious investment-banking firm of Morgan Stanley on Wall Street. She ley admits, ''There are more options today than 100 years ago. But there are still obstacles. . . . Maybe the frustrations are greater because there are so many options.''

Jill Foster, a premedical chemistry major from Silver Spring, Md., and one of two black students among 30 graduating in that field, jokes about how few black classmates are willing ''to do such an insane thing as be a chemistry major!''

More seriously, she admits to taking the ''science track'' in a good suburban high school and to being well prepared for this challenging area. But she was ''determined to be a chemistry major even if it took extra semesters to graduate.'' Sometimes she envies other students whose parents have strong science backgrounds. Her parents did not. But they did give her a chemistry set as a child, and they instilled in her their philosophy: ''There is nothing you can't do.''

Lisa Washington, a harp major from Richmond, Va., and one of a handful of black students among more than 500 in the college's Conservatory of Music, finds that most of her black and white classmates major in voice or piano. Her interest in the harp began in a fourth-grade music enrichment program of the Richmond public schools. In 10th grade she made her choice between medicine and music, and her parents invested more than $5,000 in a harp for her. They also turned in their old car for a station wagon to ferry her and the instrument to and from concerts. Miss Washington remarks that her parents are ''behind me 100 percent.'' They taught her to be the best she could and that ''if you believe in God and yourself, there's nothing you can't do.''

All three young women are politically active on campus in black organizations.

Lisa Washington helped organize the Black Students' Musicians Guild to serve as a support organization. This group wants the college to recruit more talented black musicians and to take steps to retain these students through to graduation.