In its defense, Oberlin maintained that it was not liable for the actions and personal opinions of its students and its employees, and that it had no duty to speak on behalf of the general store.
Allyn Gibson, the 32-year-old store clerk, was trained in martial arts, according to Oberlin’s court papers, and his decision to chase down and tackle a student “beyond the borders of their store and into full public view of their customer base” opened him and the store up to public criticism.
Dr. Raimondo, and the special assistant to the president, Tita Reed, were dispatched to the protests just to maintain order, the college said, and not to take sides. They “should be commended for preventing the protests from turning violent, especially when counterprotesters showed up on motorcycles wearing sidearms,” Oberlin’s court papers said.
Neither the college nor the dean ever said or wrote anything defamatory about the plaintiffs, the college said. In fact, it added, there was a split in opinion within the college community as to whether the Gibsons were racist or not, and it was their constitutional right to express their opinions on that score.
Providing refreshments and gloves, the college said, did not amount to aiding and abetting the protests.
But the jury was convinced that the college had taken sides, and had played an active role in defaming and hurting a local business.
“Just because your fellow student has been arrested, that doesn’t automatically make it invalid,” Mr. Plakas said on Friday. “It can’t always be about your tribe. It’s good to root for your team at the baseball field or the football stadium. But that’s not how the world is.”