(Note: This timeline draws from ASOC’s Multicultural History Report, 2008, which cites The Occidental Weekly, the 2006 Mission Initiatives Advisory Group’s Briefing Report and Recommendations to President Susan Prager, Racial Diversity at Occidental College: A History by Jean Paule, and data from the Institutional Research Office; reports by College committees, and interviews with Occidental students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumnae/i.)
K.S. Inui, a Japan scholar, is the first Asian (and first “non-white”) faculty member at Occidental.
George Ellison, ’52, enrolls as the first Black student at Occidental.
Along with Ellison, the first Black women graduate from Occidental: Janet Stafford and Barbara Bowen.
Baltimore Scott, ’62, becomes the first Black student body president.
July 5, 1966: President Gilman writes a letter inviting Martin Luther King, Jr., to give a speech on campus. In it, President Gilman proudly asserts that “this College has in its own way sought to contribute positively to the movement for equality for the American Negro in a variety of ways” and that Oxy “constantly” pursues “new ways to do more than we have to date.” Dr. King addresses the campus in Thorne Hall on April 12, 1967. However, the College does not yet address equality and diversity on an institutional level.
The Black Student Caucus, which had formed in 1967, presents a list of demands to the administration. The list includes demands for faculty and student exchange programs with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs); minority student/faculty/administrator control over minority admissions; a $15,000 fund, to be controlled by the Caucus, to run academic success programs for Black students; special funds set aside, and controlled by the Caucus, to bring Black speakers to campus; campus purchasing policies to buy products only from “nondiscriminatory suppliers and contractors”; and Black Studies-related courses: Swahili, Black Literature, and African Art/Peoples of Africa. BSC organizes a 2-day protest and sit-in at the opening dedication of the new administration building, now known as AGC.
Students walk out to protest the “History of Civilization” general education course.
Faculty vote to establish a committee on multicultural education.
MEChA presents “MEChA Reports: A Report on Discriminatory Practices at Occidental College” to the Board of Trustees. The Report calls for the “need for an immediate and extraordinary effort for a comprehensive, all-college commitment” toward multicultural education as a necessity for a quality liberal arts education. The report also states that “Either we stop deceiving our students by purporting that this college maintains a multicultural education, and in doing so stop the incoming flow of minority students, or, more realistically, condemn that mythical character and proceed with positive action.” The report calls for changes in faculty hiring and offers critiques of faculty failure “to acquire a sensitivity of cultural awareness” and limitations in course offerings.
Students and faculty push the Occidental College administration to develop a way to address issues of race on campus and to institutionalize diversity and multiculturalism. A small group of faculty and administrators meet with the Dean to stress the need to address these issues.
In 1982, based on the advocacy of this group, President Richard Gilman appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to examine issues facing minority students at Occidental. The Committee is chaired by Dean James England; Co-Vice Chairs are Arthé Anthony, Department of American Studies, and James Montoya, Director of Admissions. The Committee, consisting of faculty, staff, students, administrators, and alumnae/i, reports on six major areas, with recommendations for action: Student Life, including Minority Student Recruitment, Admission, and Retention; Minority Faculty Recruitment and Retention; Minority Staff Recruitment, Retention, and Diversification; Curriculum Development; and Alumni Relations. This Report is an important document in Occidental’s transformation to its current institutional mission.
The Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI) is started as an intensive residential academic program for approximately 50 incoming students. MSI students engage with questions of identity and power in academic and co-curricular components of the program, which also includes workshops and field trips around the Los Angeles area. MSI serves as the model for the reconfiguration of the College’s Cultural Studies Program (general education program) in the mid-1990s.
John Brooks Slaughter becomes President of the College, brought in to lead the transformation of the institution. The college begins to diversify the student body, faculty, and curriculum. Within a decade, the college becomes known for its commitment to equity and diversity.
“We expect you to dream about a future for this College and this Nation that is free of fear, prejudice, intolerance, and injustice … We expect you to help us understand that quality and equality are inseparable and that diversity is synonymous with what is best in America and should be celebrated and not feared.” -President John Slaughter, addressing students in Sept., 1988.
A diverse group of students, including alumnae/i of MSI, push the College to establish the Cultural Resource Center (precursor to the Intercultural Community Center) and the Multicultural Residence Hall.
The multicultural mission, based on the principle that excellence cannot be separated from equity, serves as the centerpiece and organizing principle for planning at various levels of the College. The general education program is redesigned as the Cultural Studies Program, the curricular foundation for implementing the College mission. All entering students enroll in team-taught, interdisciplinary courses in which “[n]ew perspectives are taken on traditional material, and new material is introduced into the curriculum as we expand our knowledge of the world and its constituent cultures. The contributions of traditionally undervalued groups… to the history and society of our own and other cultures take their rightful place in a tapestry whose colors are becoming richer as they become more varied” (Occidental College: Pursuing the Vision of Excellence and Equity 1997-2001).
Discussions about new faculty positions are shaped by conversations about fulfilling the College Mission.
The College works to align efforts across Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and upper Administration in order to meet the needs of the Mission.
Occidental establishes an Irvine Leadership Fellows Program for a cohort of students with funding from the James Irvine Foundation. Fellows receive scholarships, automatic enrollments into the Multicultural Summer Institute, summer internships, and focused faculty mentors. The Program ends at the College after initial funding ends and no commitment is made to institutionalize it.
Occidental also begins to participate in the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence in the Liberal Arts, bringing minority scholars to campus as doctoral and postdoctoral fellows who teach and research at the College for two years. Participation in the program leads to the hiring of several scholars into full-time, tenure-track positions.
Students organize a sit-in and occupy the administration building for multiple days in protest of waning support for multiculturalism on campus.
Occidental College ranks number one for diversity according to US News and World Report.
Enter the period of austerity, down-sizing, fiscal “prudence.” The commitment to the mission is weakened in several structural ways.
- Discount rate is lowered – less financial aid provided, admission of underprivileged student of color plummets.
- Diversity comes to stand for class, geographical, and gender differences—in short, almost anything but race—while the numbers of students of color dropped.
- Excellence and diversity become mutually exclusive – diversity comes to mean weaker students who are unprepared and unqualified.
- Curriculum changes undermine the mission – cultural studies colloquiums (interdisciplinary projects focused on issues of diversity) are cancelled. The freshman program becomes more individualistic and less mission-focused.
- Faculty hiring freeze – few new faculty of color were hired for the next decade. Little is done to ensure retention of faculty of color already working at Oxy.
- Faculty workload increases and faculty of color are particularly hard hit with more advisees, mentoring and larger classes, yet the demands for tenure and promotion remain the same – it can be argued that the tenure and promotion requirements become even more demanding in all areas, including teaching, research and committee service.
The Decade of Administrative Turmoil (2000-2008)
From 2000 to 2006, the structural backpedalling away from diversity and racial equity begun in 1999 takes a deeper hold amidst several changes in higher administration. In this whirlwind, key events include:
In the Fall, students create Oxy Unite to organize around lack of support for the multicultural mission and their experiences in an often hostile campus climate. In Spring 2005, student protests (including an action at an admission event) lead to a presentation at a faculty meeting and a campus-wide townhall meeting in Thorne Hall. Oxy Unite negotiates an “18-point Plan” with President Mitchell and Dean Chan. Students Caitlin Lynch, Ali Raymond, and Penny Saephan write an extensive Occidental College Diversity Re-Investment Report (2009) that documents students’ concerns, experiences, organizing efforts, and demands, as well as agreements made by the administration. As the Report notes,
The student[s’] demands particularly addressed the third cornerstone [of the mission] of equity…. They wanted to ensure that the mission, particularly the equity portion, was upheld with the utmost seriousness and effort by all parties at the school because of the inconsistency of the written mission and lived experiences (p. 2).
In response to student protests during the 2004-2005 year, a Special Assistant for Diversity (Prof. Donna Maeda) is appointed for a year by the acting president. Participants from across the campus accomplish the following:
- Three reports, with recommendations: one by a faculty-led advisory group; one by a combined group of staff, administrators, and faculty; and one by a diversity consultant who worked with the campus over the academic year. LINK
- Meetings with successive campus leaders to discuss the reports. None of these reports is ever acted upon.
Occidental ends participation in the Minority Scholars in Residence Program (formerly the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence in the Liberal Arts).
The Veitch Years (2008 – present)
The mission succumbs to further erosion in terms of structure and commitment. Oxy’s mainstream rhetoric of valuing excellence and equity remains the same. But excellence and equity continue to be seen as mutually exclusive. As a result, the pursuit of equity is made out to be the culprit in Oxy’s decline rather than years of administrative missteps and structural setbacks. Yet, increased further structural retreat from the mission has not led to Oxy being on the cutting edge in any other category or rankings.
- At the height of multiculturalism (mid- to late 1990s), incoming classes were over 50% students of color. Currently, the percentage is around 37%.
- One marker of the decline is that when US News and World Report first created a diversity ranking for Colleges and Universities, Oxy ranked #1 for national liberal arts colleges. We are now tied for #12. Since falling from #1 for diversity we have never achieved #1 in any other ranking category of US News and World Report or other widely known ranking systems.
- Over the years a steady number of faculty of color have left the institution (Numbers overall, AND since 2008.
- No position exists dedicated specifically to coordinating diversity on campus. 2005 is the last time such a position even exists and it is interim.
- No concerted effort, in terms of structural changes, exists to address issues of recruitment, retention, and tenure and promotion of faculty of color.
- Faculty Council creates a Diversity Task Force in 2012-2013 after an ad-hoc committee of concerned faculty begin meeting regularly in 2012.
- Lack of institutional support and mentorship for faculty of color.
- In 2012-2013, four white candidates are hired out of four national hiring searches authorized by Dean Gonzalez although several of these teaching positions focus on subjects regarding people of color, both nationally and internationally. Two faculty of color are hired through target of opportunity hiring processes. Hiring process/practices have not changed despite rhetoric.
- Over the years, there has been steady growth in the administration and a growing lack of diversity among them.
- There has been a concerted effort to marginalize and alienate administrators of color who have focused on diversity.
- A growing disconnect between the administrative moves to “professionalize” the college by re-defining merit, diversity, and excellence, showing in hiring and retention. In the Associate Dean search of 2013, a white woman was hired over two woman of color (37% of the 71% of white faculty are women).
- Curriculum: Diversity is no longer the core of our core curriculum for 1st-year students. Oxy has taken up a “marketplace of ideas” approach where the faculty chooses whatever they want for the content of first-year seminars. The faculty is encouraged to think about courses related to priority themes for the College, such as Los Angeles and global thinking, interdisciplinary teaching and learning. This approach is random compared to when diversity was clearly at the center of the mission.
- Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI): This program was key to the College’s transformation; it provided the model for the core curriculum. Currently MSI brings in about 50 students of color, with an emphasis on those from underrepresented groups, plus any student who is especially interested in diversity and equity. Some administrators have viewed this program as being detrimental to the institution because students become too aware of equity and diversity and are thus critical of the institution and vie to transform it. However, MSI graduates some of Oxy’s best students who maintain strong ties to the College. Undermining this Institute alienates current students and future alumni.
- Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL):As the College adopted a strategic focus on Los Angeles and advertised our location in this diverse city, attention was paid to wealthy cultural institutions rather than the collaborative work with underrepresented groups in Los Angeles that CCBL had been emphasizing for over a decade. Resources for the CCBL shrunk.
Lack of Commitment to the Mission
- Growing reliance on equity and excellence that redefines equity in terms of geographic location (mid-west etc), class, and skills (sport, clubs, travel, etc).
- “Excellence” is now considered separate from diversity.
- The diluting/neutralizing of a commitment to diversity by relying on administrators who are diverse, but are conservative vis a vis ….
- A clear move away from the mission towards an institution that fails to attend to equity for diverse populations.
- A isolation of diversity efforts rather than an institution-wide commitment.
- The marginalization of faculty of color and the work they do.
- The marginalization of diversity in the curriculum.
- The marginalization of student of color by using the rhetoric of diversity and failing to attend to the realities.
- Few institutional resources/mentorship to support and move the college mission forward.
A Student Diversity Coalition forms and compiles a list of hate incidents on campus, especially targeting LGBTQ students. In addition, the organizers craft a Plan of Action that includes a list of demands.
Faculty vote to approve a Diversity Statement.
Students push for community forums to address hate incidents and a hostile campus climate, focusing on (but not limited to) LGBTQ students.
Occidental College ties for number 12 for diversity according to US News and World Report.