Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

RP 6: Allen Museum Friendship Art, Friendship Institution, Friendship Resolution

Allen Museum Artwork:

Four Corners by Jackie Winsor 1972

Four Corners by Jackie Winsor is a great example of minimalist modern art that alludes friendship. This sculpture is 1,500 pounds of hemp string wrapped around wooden logs. The clumps of hemp are clearly separate beings but if you look closely, you can see the connection of the wood logs underneath the balls of hemp string.  Art critic Lucy Lippard notes the clear feminization of the wood by connecting them with soft, hand woven hemp. This note reminded me of the connection of feminists politics of care and civic friendship that Schwarzenbach calls to. The hard wood is connected, but still separate by the soft, feminine hemp just embedded care theory in civic friendship. When commissioned to write an essay about this piece, Ellen Johnson described it as “capable of conveying a living quietude in which multiple opposing forces are held in equilibrium.” I think this is a beautiful sentiment for how friendships should work, especially friendships of difference. We oppose each other naturally as human beings but the hemp is the feminine friendship that keeps us in equilibrium with one and other.


Friendship Institution: 

When I think about the way to best cement a social norm in the minds of everyone in society, I think of children. Institutionalizing friendship starts best with young people, because although cliche, they are the future. At my high school, there was a required class you took every year called Mysteries (I went to a very small, very progressive high school). This class met once a week, and its purpose was to connect students and promote people to be open with their classmates. My high school would deliberately place people who they knew were not good friends with one and other in a class, and once a week a facilitator would make us open up to one and other, emphasizing listening with the heart and searching for connections. A lot of my peers turned their nose up at a deeply personal, emotionally heated class like this (as most teenagers would). However, come graduation, all of my peers and I started to miss sitting down and connecting with people we weren’t friends with on a deeper level, but we all had gained tools from learning and listening to go out and make better connections with people in the real world.
Studies show that classes like this in a standard curriculum can be amazingly beneficial for students. I think if we implement friendship based, emotionally honest courses like Mysteries into our core curriculum we will start to see a domino effect. When younger kids are made to understand the value of connecting with people in a very non-artificial and often scary way in their schooling, they carry those attitudes with them for the rest of their lives. Institutionalizing friendship by opening younger children’s minds to the value in connectivity among many people of different backgrounds is what I believe to be our best option. This could be an approach to institutionalizing friendship that isn’t forced because it would marinate and develop with the minds of the children to which it is being institutionalized. I think this is the route to more authentic friendships in society and politics, not to mention the benefit for the children at the time of their educations.

Friendship Resolution: 

Oberlin City Council’s Friendship Resolution does a great job of explaining the importance of friendship and the necessity for a Friendship Day on very broad terms. If I were to make edits to this resolution, I would keep the broad sweeping political and philosophical proclamations on friendship while trying to implement more focused statements and activities within the community. If Oberlin is leading the charge on the importance of friendship nationally and globally, our community needs to put more effort in to being a successful model for a micro friendship-based society before we apply these ideas to a national scale. These efforts can be in the form of more friendship crossover between the town and college and more effort on national friendship day on the town’s part to make more than just those associated with friendship at Oberlin College participate or at the very least take notice of what is being celebrated on April 8th every year. I wonder how many people who live in the city of Oberlin who are less associated with the college than others or are only associated through working in non-teaching or administrative positions are even aware of what an important day April 8th could be for Oberlin. The lack of efforts to spread the news of friendship day and to aid the citizens of Oberlin in coming together, defeats the purpose of such statements in the resolution like “the designation of a day in our calendar is an effective way to transform an ideal humanitarian philosophy into a public ritual and thereby helping communal cohesion and solidarity.” This statement is true, in theory, but just declaring a day and holding a ceremony in the root room does not implement public ritual or at least not a ritual that reaches the masses. Oberlin has to make clear, outward efforts to publicize this day, get everyone involved from the town and college in order to be a model for larger societies on friendship and to mend some of the communal separation and tensions within our very own town.

New Proclamations:

WHEREAS, the implementation of this day of friendship welcomes all members of the Oberlin community to participate and emphasizes a union among all people in the town and college and

WHEREAS, the purpose of this day is to remind ourselves why friendship is important for everyone in the world but also how we can be working to promote friendship within our smaller society in order to radiate change and

WHEREAS, friendship becomes a vital part of Oberlin’s political dynamics beyond April 8th and we can pull people from other communities into our truly friendly city

Possible Applications:

-More involvement from town business owner’s

-More publication of events across town

-More support/enthusiasm from city council

-Events people in the town will want to bring their children to

-Events in a neutral place outside of college walls, like Tappan

-Workshops/Activities that ask peoples opinions on divisiveness and necessity for friendship in certain areas of Oberlin’s communities and happen beyond April 8th


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