Coalition@Oxy for Diversity and Equity: The Mission
C.O.D.E. believes that Occidental College will achieve its full potential as a leading liberal arts college only by broadening and deepening our decades-long institutional commitment to excellence and equity. We fully support the current mission statement of Occidental College. C.O.D.E. wishes to encourage all those connected with the college (Alumni, Administrators, Faculty, Staff, Students, and Trustees) to consider seriously the curricular, compositional, and structural changes needed if we wish to implement our unique mission effectively in and beyond the rapidly changing city of Los Angeles in the twenty-first century. Our mission is to serve as the conscience of the institution. C.O.D.E. challenges Occidental College to match our rhetoric with concrete reality.
Oxy is not alone in the nationwide condition of colleges. Black students at the most elite institutions are almost equally as likely to enter college as white students, but are half as likely to actually graduate with a degree (7). Latino students also suffer from high dropout rates and makeup very small numbers at elite institutions (7). Retention at Oxy is similarly abysmal. So even after being granted admission, colleges are failing to provide the resources that specifically target underrepresented students of color. And for students who identify as First Nations, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, or Arab? Numbers and support groups are equally as nonexistent. It is Oxy’s responsibility, as an institution that asserts these ideals in its mission statement, to provide better resources and a make a greater commitment to an equitable campus environment. There is no ombudsman to report to if faculty, students, or staff exhibit racist or discriminatory behavior. The BIRT system of reporting is flawed, as it simply reports to administration. Besides the cultural student-led organizations on campus and maybe the ICC, there are very few resources for students of color. Programming assistants and the cultural club members are ultimately students that have academic responsibilities to tend to. The administration should be investing time and money into creating resources and events, instead of relying and taking credit for the hard work of students. Faculty of color are low in number, and there is no real effort by the school to help facilitate student-faculty relationships. Established mentorship programs and research has shown that faculty representation and mentor relationships for students of color has a profound effect on retention and achievement (8). There is no such program at Oxy.
And to those that see this tumblr as just a bunch of students complaining, C.O.D.E. is an active attempt to pressure the institution to hold itself accountable to its claim on diversity. This tumblr is a route, previously unavailable, for students to articulate concerns. And this is not a new issue at Oxy.The Diversity Committee has done very little, despite being in existence for several years. Oxy could only benefit from upholding its claim to diversity as articulated in the mission statement. Yes, compared to some other schools, Oxy is marginally better. But “better” is not enough. There are no bleach bombing incidents at Oxy like there are at UT-Austin. But that does not mean Oxy should stop pushing itself to be more progressive and equitable. I am 110% grateful to this school for giving a working class woman from an immigrant family the chance to study and succeed. I do not hate Oxy. On the contrary, I love this school. I have faith in this school to do better, and that is why I am part of C.O.D.E.
4. 2010 US Census
Why I joined C.O.D.E.
I am a part of C.O.D.E because I believe it is absolutely necessary to help the school I love into becoming a true diverse multicultural institution with progressive values. We have to criticize the things we care for if we want to see progressive change.
As a working class Black person, I grew up in a city and a neighborhood where the majority of citizens are people of color. I attended schools where my peers were largely people of color in elementary, middle, and high school. As soon as I attended Occidental College, the culture shock hit me harder than Marquez hit Pacquiao in their fourth fight. I was caught off-guard with how White and upper class Oxy really was, especially after visiting in the spring with the Multicultural Visitation Program and going through the Multicultural Summer Institute prior to attending. I had a hard time adjusting as a person of color on a White campus but with the help of some fellow peers and professors of color (as well as a few white allies), I grew into my own and became an agent for social justice.
I did not put my personal experience just to tell my life story or for pure anecdotal reasons. I shared this experience because I know other student of color have had similar experiences with feeling culture shock, alienation, and isolation on a White campus. Granted, at no time during my current attendance did I ever feel threatened by some reactionary White Student Union, been consistently called racist slurs, or received death threats. However, I have felt uncomfortable hearing classist statements regarding how “lazy” us working class people are and racist statements about the “evils” of affirmative action that often go unchallenged in both classroom and personal settings. This is just the tip of iceberg of what us people of color are confronted with daily.
Occidental College refers to itself as a multicultural and diverse institution when in actuality they are the exact opposite. Oxy is an upper class lily-White institution that masquerades as the pillar of progressivism while concealing problems as a result of racism. Occidental did not always reflect progressive values as this institution was created by and for White people 126 years ago.
Consistent with the nation, Black men have some of the lowest retention rates at Occidental College (1). In addition, Black men have some of the lowest collective GPAs in the school. I personally know at least five young Black men who dropped out during my time as a student. Harambee is a student-run organization that was originally created by the Dean of Students to help retain Black men on our campus. However, the organization has received less support from administration and turned from an initiative started by the college into a student-ran club. This lack of support from the administration is incredibly telling on where the focus and interest from Oxy really lies; it is not with creating a climate of equity and excellence.
I write this letter not out of vindictiveness or anger towards Occidental College. I am grateful for the privilege of being in an institution, especially in the face of the low college admission rates of other Black people like myself (2). Instead I write this out of concern that administration may not have the best interests of ALL students who attend this institution. It is distressing to see how an institution can go from active involvement addressing social issues prominent on-campus to a college of near-apathy for actual progressivism. An example of this apathy can be seen in the statistics of people of color on this campus. In 1996, the people of color who made up the student body peaked around 50% and ever since then the numbers have dipped to around 38% (3). When I first came to Oxy, the Black student body was just over 5% and it has declined to 4.1% in 2013 (4). Not only is faculty still predominantly White, but professors of color such as Natasha Behl of Politics and Juan Santos of the Sociology departments were let go.
I want to see Occidental College become the bastion of multicultural that the mission statement claims it aspires to be (5). So far, the mission statement has amounted to being nothing more than empty rhetoric used for the sole purpose of selling their school to students. Now is not the time to apologize or rationalize for the clear apathy Occidental has towards making progressive change. The purpose of C.O.D.E. and its tumblr page is not to simply be a place to vent frustrations over the ineptitude of Oxy or debate about “oversensitivity” or political correctness. Rather, C.O.D.E offers where we can work to create positive social and cultural change so that Occidental can actually be an academically excellent and a socially equitable institution.
bell hooks wrote that “beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” When I think about the kind of society I want to fight for- one where my values of justice and equity and empathy are essential- I think of this powerful quote. And I think about the ways that our institution is not bolstering a sense of beloved community. Spaces of beloved community I have found on this campus have come from counter-spaces created by students of color and some, but far too few, allies who know that the school is not substantively diverse nor is it committed to equity. These are incredibly inspiring spaces of resistance to and survival through oppression. I am a part of C.O.D.E because I see this coalition as an important push to organize this resistance into power in order to change the gross inequities of policy and practice on our campus.
Far too many members of our college’s community tacitly or actively perpetuate racism. This is done by hiding behind a false guise of being self-proclaimed “liberals.” Voting for Barack Obama does not make you progressive. I hear the phrases “that’s so Oxy” or “we’re so politically correct” (newsflash- being p.c. means nothing if you have no analysis of power, privilege, oppression, or justice) conflated to a sense of radicalism or progressivism; these are simply misnomers. These flawed beliefs translate to a sense of complacency. This campus culture, along with all the micro-aggressions and flat-out racism we see playing out in classrooms and across campus, must be treated as the systemic problems that they are. The College touts our “diversity” (let’s really look at the numbers), but does little to support the communities of color that are here. Professors of color and students of color are not retained because our policies are developed primarily out of a paradigm that fails to challenge white privilege and race-based oppression. Oxy must do better. The systemic injustice perpetuated by our campus culture and by the policies and practices of the College demand fundamental institutional change. And that’s why I believe in C.O.D.E.
I am a part of C.O.D.E because I feel called to support the tireless efforts of our faculty members. Investing in a process of collaboration is an extremely important thing for us to do. The faculty remind us that we are not alone in this struggle and it is important for us, as students, to reciprocate. We must build solidarity if we are going to succeed.
We, as a coalition, believe that the dreams we have for our campus to be a place that actually values equity and diversity can be realized, or as Ella Baker once said, “can be made real.” We also know that this change is not inevitable, but that it must be pushed forward. We are aware of the long history of fighting and sacrifice by past and present members of our community and we want to do justice to that work- building off of it as we look onward to the future of this institution.