As faculty in CODE, we are incredibly proud of the students who participated in the demonstration yesterday. Courageously, they spoke truth to power about the lack of support and hostility they face on a daily basis in and outside the classroom. The actions of our students lucidly demonstrated their resilience and ability to maintain critical hope for a more equitable, just, and supportive community that Oxy should and needs to be. The students risked a great deal on behalf of that hope. At the rally many broke down experiencing raw pain and emotion with sexual assault being particularly triggering, pointing out how inadequately the campus has dealt with the confluence of race and sexual violence. As our students continue to process all that came up, many are experiencing angst and confusion, while there are inadequate campus resources to help them. Unfortunately, as we learned earlier today, several students have endured violent threats in response to their action. We cannot stand by hoping all is ok.
For national commentators and undoubtedly some here at Oxy who question this generation’s fortitude in the face of more covert and subtle attacks and degradation, yesterday’s display of strength and resilience loudly proclaims the opposite. On top of their daily lives as students, they have to challenge and educate their peers and us. And for every brave student who spoke out yesterday, there are countless others who forge ahead, internalizing the frustration, confusion, and pain.
While we appreciate the support shown to students by the cancellation of the faculty meeting and the attendance of some at their rally, we must pay attention to their analysis and leadership. The power of the students’ statements and the specific issues they raise clearly show that this is not simply about uncivil discourse or mere complaints. And as one of our students said yesterday, this is not a moment to look at them with pity as though they are “kicked puppies.” It is unacceptable that our students have to display such pain for others to begin to understand the deep problems of the institution.
The President and Dean of the College continue to state that Oxy is more diverse than most of our peers, and that we do more with our resources than institutions with larger endowments. We may appear better than many schools in terms of numbers of diverse students and faculty. But such self-congratulatory back-slapping is felt as back-turning by those who experience the daily injustices our students recounted. The behaviors and climate they described are unacceptable in any amount or measure and show that the issues go far beyond access to the College. Additionally, the accumulation of such microaggressions have been linked with very real psychological and physiological harm. The real comparison to be drawn here at Oxy is between those who never have to question whether they belong and those who are constantly questioned about their belonging.
We need to respond to the students’ demands (pasted below). Many will find the first demand troubling and divisive. However, this should not distract us from our responsibility to give due weight and consideration to the entire set of issues. We should encourage each area of the campus to address the demands that lie within its purview and as faculty, we should focus on demands that lie within our control. These include reorienting the Cultural Studies Program to its original intent grounded in the Mission of the College, establishing diversity training for ourselves and the rest of our community, and creating a vigorous and sustainable Black Studies program.
Many other students on campus are engaged in a process of discerning how best to be in solidarity with their Black peers who are coping with anti-blackness within and beyond campus. White students are also seeking out and trying effective allied actions. Some of these students stood in strategic positions during the demonstration at the request of their Peers of Color who felt vulnerable. Other white students wandered into the quad during the protest and attempted to responsibly map their own actions and inactions regarding anti-black racism. Amidst the heightened fear of white violence, several white students spoke with their white peers about the reality of white supremacy here on campus. Perhaps we as faculty might be able to learn from these intentional and spontaneous microaffirmations and utilize them to guide our own approach during this time.
The candidates for our CDO search will be on campus in the coming week and we should all participate, but we cannot and should not wait for a CDO who will have limited resources to address an incredibly large list of responsibilities. We sincerely ask you all to step up, to confront these issues, and to actively engage in discussions that address the campus climate and questions of inclusion and marginalization. We urge you to take responsibility and leadership in coming up with creative solutions. We strongly encourage you to commit to working for a just, equal, and compassionate community that nurtures all. These tasks are not exclusive to faculty of color; everybody has to play their role. We are all complicit in creating the hostile environment and climate that permeates our campus.
What are you going to do?