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Dear Admitted Students,
We, the Coalition @Oxy for Diversity & Equity (CODE), would like to congratulate you on your acceptance to Occidental! For those of you who were able to visit this week, you may have become aware of the issues surrounding our campus relating to diversity. Occidental College claims to value being a multicultural campus that reflects the diverse urban setting of Los Angeles. However, this image you have been receiving from the school is not the reality for many of us.
On this blog, you will find a number of statistics about Oxy’s diversity, information about the long history of student activism at Oxy, and our proposed solutions to many of the contributing factors to our problems. For more current personal accounts of racism and other forms of discrimination, please visit http://codeoxy.tumblr.com/.
While Oxy’s commitment to diversity and equity on campus has often come into question, we acknowledge that this is not specific to our school. Wherever you ultimately decide to attend, you will most likely be subject to negative experiences, similar to those you may already have encountered in your lifetime. (See: Diversity at Oxy in comparison to other colleges)
Unique to Oxy, however, is the long history of student activism and community-building to improve our campus and hold our college accountable to its core beliefs: excellence and equity. Since the 1960s, students have advocated for a more diverse multicultural environment. CODE seeks to continue and build upon the legacy of the efforts of past activists, demanding the most of our time here. As you decide which college is right for you, know that CODE is a support network for students of color and we strongly encourage you to come to Oxy and join our efforts.
CODE students and professors
P.S. Also check us out at, https://www.facebook.com/pages/CODE-Oxy/626950517338847
Concerning Blackness and Springfest
I would first like to credit the alumni of Occidental for sharing this narrative with others and myself. This letter would not be possible without their institutional memory and the knowledge concerning Springfest would still be largely forgotten.
As everyone on campus knows, this year’s Springfest is featuring hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Known for his socially conscientious lyrics, as well as his frequent collaborations with Mos Def, Talib Kweli is a well-respected artist within the genre.
Also of note, Talib Kweli performed at Occidental in 2006 during one of the series of events known as “The Exploration of Blackness,” which preceded and evolved into Springfest. The “Exploration of Blackness,” as indicated through the title, was a two-week long series of events dedicated to understanding the culture, nuances, and struggles of the Black Diaspora. These events include, but are not limited to, lectures by Angela Davis, performances and talks by Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco, as well as public viewings of both The Boondocks and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in the quad. “Exploration of Blackness” received widespread support from the student body, cultural clubs, faculty, and administration before it transitioned to the Springfest we are currently familiar with.
While the conventional criticism of Springfest programming board’s seemingly monotonous selection of hip-hop artists year after year is somewhat ironic, especially considering the origins of Springfest are rooted within Blackness, it is not unexpected. Springfest has been divorced from its radical Blackness social justice beginnings. As a result, it is no longer conceived as an event dedicated to helping foster campus-wide understanding of Black identity, but rather a concert to turn up at.
Of course, this is not to say we should not have concerts with a diverse range of musical genres and acts. I would argue for more diverse music beyond hip-hop for Oxy concerts.
However, we should not forget the history and original purpose of what once was explicitly Black radical programming at Oxy. As this campus continues to wrestle over issues over race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality, it is imperative that we look to the past to try and resurrect the once-progressive soul of the college. Going to a Macklemore or Talib Kweli concert is not enough to engage in critical discussion and action regarding prominent (and inescapable) social issues.
Class of 2014
One thing is clear: the packed ASOC-sponsored forum in Choi Auditorium on Thursday, Feb 27, reiterated the need for an Office of Diversity and Equity led by a Vice President or Chief Diversity Officer. The discussion can be organized in terms of several themes: a lack of coordination; a lack of response to serious allegations; and a lack of expertise. Organizing the evidence from the meeting in this way reiterates that the problem at hand is not a question of individual goodwill across scattered offices. It is a question of effective structuring to ensure that a team of employees will devote all of their energy solely to ensuring that excellence and equity are sustained campus-wide.
The town hall consisted of students, faculty, and several panelists, including the Dean of Students/VP for Student Life, Dean of the College/VP for Academic Affairs , the VP for Admissions and Financial Aid, the Associate-VP for Scholarship Technology, and the Associate-VP for Strategic Initiatives. Although several administrators stated how frequently they consider diversity and they offered isolated instances of how they each try to address diversity, they showed no evidence of working in coordination to enact a shared vision.They showed no evidence of how they hold each other accountable to bring this shared vision to fruition. In this town hall meeting the VPs could have illustrated their progress on actualizing their Action Plan sent to the Oxy community on December 5, 2013. However, none of the VPs even mentioned their own plan. Whether this is based on the fact that these VPs lack the expertise to carry out such an agenda, or their counter to CODE’s plan was merely a stalling tactic, or any other reason, it would be problematic to assume that we must simply give the VPs plan more time when they are clearly not attempting to implement their own plan and perhaps forgot they even created one. The VPs must now explain why they set aside Code’s 29 Action Items for a counter-plan that they have abandoned less than 3 months after making it public. More importantly, the VPs must address CODE’s Action Items.
Most significantly, the panelists literally ignored several troubling claims from students about the administration’s lack of transparency, “culture of intimidation” and problematic concept of “risk,” which treats students of color, LGBTQ students, religious minorities, first-generation students, students from working class backgrounds, and survivors of sexual assault as liabilities. The examples that follow can be added to a long list of examples where lack of transparency amongst administrators directly and negatively impacts students’ living and learning experiences. For example, students of color found out at the forum that their applications to become residents in Pauley Hall were thwarted by hidden criteria. As a result of these hidden criteria, students who wanted to live in Pauley were not accepted into the dorm. Meanwhile, students uninterested in the dorm’s multi-cultural theme and did not even apply were allowed to move in. The administrators directly responsible for Residential Life who were in the room did not explain why they imposed additional criteria without notifying students. Many students who value the dorm’s long legacy concluded that, regardless of intentions, this undermines Pauley’s mission and worsens their living experience on campus.
In regards to a culture of intimidation and risk management, students noted how often campus security watches Pauley Hall despite the illegal activities occurring in other dorms not associated with students of color. Administrators did not deny this observation or offer an answer. Another student asked why student workers are threatened or fired from campus jobs for joining campus causes when Oxy claims to value social justice. The administration did not deny or address this claim either.
Students also asked the VPs how they will hold accountable students targeting and harassing first-generation students, LGBTQ students, and students of color. Although one administrator in the audience offered a mentorship program to LGBTQ students, other voices reiterated the original question: why are students who target their peers not being held accountable and when will accountability be put in place? The total lack of a response indicates, regardless of goodwill, there will be no accountability for students mistreating their peers based on racial, gender, sexual, class, or other differences.
Two points remain. The penultimate one concerns a lack of expertise among the administrators. It was quite telling that students’ comments and questions demonstrated deeper understanding of the structural and institutional bases for their experiences than the institutional leaders who attempted to respond. Attending conferences alone will not give the current VPs the proper training to handle these efforts around diversity. Yet none of the panelists said they’ve pursued extensive training to learn about and implement a model of inclusive excellence. They showed no evidence of consulting with peer institutions. Some of the panelists appeared to think goodwill alone overcomes this hurdle. Instead, this fostered confusion, with administrators answering questions outside their purview yet dodging questions within their purview. Some students wondered why an administrator who has already received a vote of no confidence is at the helm of this diversity initiative. It is time to state the obvious: goodwill, though welcomed, is not a substitute for expertise.
In conclusion, the selective way in which the word “civil” is used to manage campus debate is disturbing. Mistreated and even traumatized students are being asked to be civil, which basically means they should keep silent, as if they are threats to the campus. Historically, such calls for civility are most commonly deployed against groups speaking from structurally disempowered positions, to keep those groups from having more of a say in the institutions they inhabit. It is disturbing that members of the Oxy community would use such language to discipline students who are demanding genuine dedication to diversity and equity. But the call for civility rarely goes both ways. Considering that Oxy administrators rejected CODE’s Action Items that would yield immediate results; that administrators created their own counter-plan only to shelve and forget about it within three months; that administrators at the assembly ignored the students’ most pressing questions; that administrators have thwarted students’ searches for safe campus spaces; that the administrators did not deny nor address allegations of administrative surveillance, intimidation, and retaliation against students; and, lastly, that Oxy administrators offered no accountability plan for students who mistreat their peers—Considering all this, demanding civility from protesting students without holding other students accountable for victimizing their peers reveals a confusion of priorities and just how far the rhetoric of civility gets us: nowhere.
This is not about being “civil” or “uncivil.” This is about transforming Oxy’s rhetoric into reality. It is clear now that there is no alternative plan. All that is left to do is to implement CODE’s 29 Action Items because they are a first step to ensure the welfare of Oxy’s student body, faculty, and administrators.
Why have so many liberal arts colleges established offices headed by Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) in the last five years? How did Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore, Vassar, and Williams become the new leaders in diversity initiatives? Why are Bates, Connecticut, Hamilton, Dickinson, Middlebury, Providence, Reed, Smith, Trinity, and Wellesley following their lead? Why is Oxy not part of the 26 member-schools of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Organization (LADO)? Is Oxy as committed as these colleges to the institutionalization of diversity values?
A major national study by Damon Williams and Katrina Wade-Golden found that in the last five years, over 30 colleges and universities have created posts for CDOs. The emergence of these posts in higher education has historical precedence as some institutions hired VPs or Deans of Minority Affairs in the 1970s to promote universal access and the ideal of student diversity. What distinguishes the current national trend for offices with CDOs from its precursor, according to Williams and Wade-Golden, “is the functional definition of diversity as a resource than can be leveraged to enhance the learning of all students and is fundamental to institutional excellence, in addition to its historic definition as the presence of individuals that differ by race, gender, or some other social identity characteristic.” The shifting paradigm has led to corresponding institutional transformation at many colleges that are informed by and committed to the Inclusive Excellence Change Model conceptualized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
The role of offices of CDOs in the Inclusive Excellence model is to provide overarching strategic leadership and accountability in the resolution of systemic inequities, expansion of pathways for access and success, and promotion of a healthy campus climate. The Inclusive Excellence model does not presume that the CDO alone is responsible for these efforts. To the contrary, the model demands that the office of the CDO serve as an integrating force for diversity issues by collaborating, coordinating, and working through the lateral networks of an institution. Consultative relationships are essential, but the office of the CDO is ultimately accountable for building consensus, assessing progress, and achieving results. In essence, the CDO’s leadership provides both symbolic and tangible resources that represent the priority placed in diversifying a campus.
Will we sit on the sidelines and watch these dynamic changes taking place at our peer institutions or join the movement and regain our position as a leader for diversity, equity and inclusion? A Diversity and Equity Office headed by a Chief Diversity Officer could build on the foundational work that has already been done at Oxy since the 1980s and help us move forward in building our diversity infrastructure and advancing our diversity goals.
We encourage you to become familiar with some of the key scholarship on Inclusive Excellence as well as strategic diversity initiatives at other liberal arts colleges, so that we can hold a rigorous discussion about CODE’s demand for the an Office of Diversity and Equity and the hiring of a VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the spring semester.
What is a Chief Diversity Officer?
Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Postsecondary Institutions
C3 Creating Consortiums Connections
Dean Strives to Recruit Minority Scholars to Liberal Arts Colleges
They fired Joe! And while the administration seems to be finally addressing the particulars of this case, they make no mention of how a long-term and dedicated employee was fired in the manner he was.
And sadly, Joe Cunje’s situation is not an isolated incident. What Prof. Boesche refers to as “a poison in the atmosphere on this campus” has indeed been registered by students, faculty, and staff as a mounting culture of surveillance, intimidation, and retaliation, targeting critics of the administration and members of the campus community who strive to make Oxy a more just and equitable institution. This culture prioritizes a “risk management” approach in which obedience and control over how issues are represented take precedence over the actual well-being of members of the community. As a consequence, those who raise issues about sexual assault, microagressions and more overt acts of hate, and the overall hostile climate are treated as “risks.” Those who bring to light these realities are treated as threats, for they question the administration’s representation of the College as a place of diversity, equality, and justice.
We, the undersigned, call on the Occidental administration to stop the re-marginalization of women, people of color, members of working class communities, religious minorities, dis/abled persons, and LGBTQ persons by “managing” what they are bringing to light. We call on the administration to execute CODE’s action items to make Occidental an institution in which all can thrive by attending to the proposed structural changes:
• hiring an ombudsperson,
• increasing transparency and oversight throughout all divisions of the College,
• and establishing a fully-resourced Office of Diversity and Equity, headed by a Vice President.
Conferring dignity to venerable employees like Joe is a crucial start but not enough. We call for immediate structural reform to create a more just and humane institution.
Petition addressed to: Jonathan Veitch, President of Occidental College, Chris Calkins, President of the Board of Trustees
Petition started on 2/21/2014
From the undersigned:
Lieutenant Joseph Cunje, despite 30 years of dedicated service to Oxy, was wrongfully and inhumanely terminated. We, members of CODE, call for a thorough and transparent investigation of the reasons for and mode of Joe’s dismissal. Accusations of inaccuracies in Prof. Boesche’s letter are unsupported in the Dean’s message. Further, in the face of a firing of a decades long loyal and dedicated member of the community, claims of confidentiality are insufficient. The Dean needs to substantiate his claims with concrete evidence, a trail of due process, and an explanation of why other alternative outcomes, if any, were not chosen.
Sadly, we fear that Joe’s situation is not an isolated incident. What Prof. Boesche refers to as “a poison in the atmosphere on this campus” has indeed been registered by students, faculty, and staff as a mounting culture of intimidation, retaliation, and surveillance targeting critics of the administration and members of the campus community who are interested in making Oxy a more just and equitable institution. As Prof. Boesche reminds us, this has not always been the case.
In order to restore and enhance a culture of trust and pride on campus and among our dedicated alumni, we demand that the administration prioritize student safety, diversity, and intellectual rigor rather than abusing protocols of confidentiality and misapplied “risk management” to protect its questionable decisions. All too often, these “risks” are women, people of color, the dis/abled, non-heterosexual and transgender members of our community. Conferring dignity to venerable employees like Joe is a crucial start but not enough. We call for structural changes, including the hiring of an ombudsperson, increased transparency and oversight among divisions of the college, and the establishment of a Vice-President and Office of Diversity and Equity. Please join us in bringing Occidental College’s mission of excellence, equity, community, and service into a better future.