August 31, 2015
“[T]he numbers by themselves reflect only part of the picture. Minority students and faculty do not report substantial improvements in the quality of their lives on the Occidental campus. In fact, many of them seriously question the College’s commitment to the hopes and intentions expressed in previous years. If we wish to continue to project the image of Occidental as a multicultural educational community, we must take steps now to realize that vision, before the declining indices we have noted become irreversible.”
Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Minority Issues, April 1983
Dear President Veitch:
Thank you for the updates on the search and information about the Chief Diversity Officer position and search process. The appointment of the dedicated and thoughtful search committee members and your commitment to “spend whatever it takes to get the right person” will help the College to attract and hire a strong candidate. Salary is important; it must be matched with a host of human and material resources as well. As members of the Occidental community who have been working on issues of equity and diversity for many years, we are glad that the College has created this position, as recommendations for a similar position have been made over the years, including the 1983 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Minority Issues and the 2006 Report and Recommendations by the Mission Initiatives Advisory Group. We must, however, express our disappointment that this position is not at the Vice Presidential level, with a fully staffed office, recommendations that were proposed by CODE, the CDO Working Group, and the faculty. As Oxy faculty, staff, students, and administrators have made such calls for over thirty years, other schools have developed knowledge and expertise about what makes such positions and offices effective through scholarship and practice. We believe that learning from such expertise would be in Occidental’s best interests as we create a new position. We express our concerns not simply to complain but to point out the urgent need to shift our culture in addition to accomplishing discrete and narrow goals. This requires connecting discrete goals through an intellectually-informed understanding of the comprehensiveness of the work to change the institution itself.
As our current students continue to point out to us, as eloquently expressed at the recent Thorne Hall meeting with the search committee, the ability for everyone to succeed and thrive both academically and personally at the College is hampered by issues in the College’s culture and climate. Students not only experience both significant forms of racism, microaggressions, and broader inequities in access and treatment; they express that their presence on campus is desired more to provide a diverse experience for others than for them to be full community members in an intellectual and social environment that is geared equally for them. They experience Occidental as “guests” at the table, or worse, as beings in a zoo. If we are firmly committed to changing this, we must do more than what scholar Sara Ahmed names as simply “checking the box”–picking diversity items that are easily accomplished in order for leaders of the institution to say that they’ve done something.
These experiences are replicated at the faculty and staff levels. Inequities in terms of workload in an environment that is defined by “traditional” academic standards (by a male and white dominated academy), have had negative implications for minoritized faculty. There have been serious consequences for faculty of color, female faculty who have supported students in sexual assault cases, and faculty who have shouldered a disproportionate load in terms of advising and mentoring of students of color and queer students. Ranging from overt “punishment” to more covert marginalization, these faculty likewise provide the diversity that is celebrated publicly by our institution, but privately endure the microaggressions and hostility that prevail. There have also been similar incidents among staff that were made public; there are surely many more that we never hear about but which adversely affect morale and well-being–and the ability to work effectively with all students.
Occidental needs a CDO who can both accomplish important tasks and lead the broader, difficult process of changing our institutional culture and core assumptions about the nature of our work. This requires a deep, intellectually informed understanding of the comprehensiveness of the work beyond adding some programs or protecting the institution through compliance or using diversity as a marketing device. While compliance with legal requirements to protect the institution is important and necessary, if we focus on that without attending to the deeper work of changing the institutional culture, we will fall into the “checking the box” trap. If we simply see diversity as a marketing story, we contribute to students’ experience of having their presence sought primarily for someone else’s benefit. Compliance, using diversity to tell our story differently, and adding a few programs cannot get to core issues of centering institutional work on all of our diverse students: their education, their experiences, and their ability to thrive.
Our recommendations are corroborated by interviews with leaders from the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers organization (LADO) and extensive scholarly research. We agree with the experts that it is imperative that the office for a Chief Diversity Officer is at the highest administrative level and that it includes staff and financial resources to substantiate structures that elevate and sustain the College’s mission for diversity and equity.
As members of the community dedicated to contributing to the work on equity and diversity that will support the success of all members of the College, we call on you to elevate this position to the level of Vice President to ensure that we attract high level candidates, demonstrate institutional commitment for the position and the work, and institutionalize a structure necessary to make long lasting institutional change. We also call on you to ensure that the Search Committee has the best chance of finding and recruiting the strongest candidate by showing in specific and concrete ways the staffing and financial resources you will commit to the office in order for the office to grow to what is necessary for the scope of work to be done. This support is crucial, given the urgency of our circumstances. As we see events taking place across the nation that demonstrate abiding divisions around intersecting issues of race, sexuality, gender, and class, even as we commemorate significant and similar events from fifty years ago, we understand the deep differences in experience and perception at our College that the CDO will need to work to reconcile. We would welcome the opportunity to work with a strong Chief Diversity Officer who oversees a robust office with full resources–and a concrete plan for growth from the President’s Office.