President Elam has commissioned a Task Force on Promoting Community and Safety at Occidental College to lead a cross-divisional response to the current climate.
Dear Occidental College Community,
Academic communities have been deeply challenged recently by the very real and rising phenomena of antisemitism and Islamophobia—at baseline, we certainly share an unequivocal, ethical obligation to prevent their occurrence on our campus. That said, our goals are far more expansive than simply prevention. Our further aim is to promote and ensure informed discourse and diversity of opinion, to help students of multiple backgrounds and identities feel not only safe but welcome, and to provide conscientious academic spaces for learning and scholarship. In this moment of global strife, I am concerned that divisive rhetoric on campus obscures these goals and the College’s mission. Slogans have appeared on campus, here and elsewhere, that represent a political rallying cry for some but a dehumanizing insult for others. Some students have reported feeling uncomfortable representing their Jewish identities on campus, regardless of their political perspectives; other students have expressed fear of doxxing or cancellation for engaging in political expression. We often talk about what is legally permissible or not permissible—but at a time when both antisemitism and Islamophobia are increasing in the United States, I hope that we can also reach beyond this framework to consider the impact of our words on our communities, and to find ground for mutual care and understanding, even as we have strongly-held views and share differing opinions.
With this aspiration in mind, I have commissioned a Task Force on Promoting Community and Safety to lead a cross-divisional response to the current climate, active immediately. This Task Force will be co-chaired by Associate Dean of Students, Vivian Garay Santiago, and Dean of the College, Wendy Sternberg, and will seek and draw upon input from students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and advocates to address the ongoing needs of our community. Acting with my full support and authority, the Task Force will direct projects and initiatives consistent with the key commitments and areas of focus laid out below, and I encourage you to participate in making recommendations as they begin their work. The role of the Task Force is to ensure that the various initiatives described here are carried out by the appropriate individuals, campus offices, groups, and entities. In that sense, everyone has a part to play in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all members of the community.
SUPPORT FOR OXY STUDENTS
In collaboration with Occidental’s Office for Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL), Oxy Hillel, the office of Student Leadership Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE), and Jewish student life advisors, as well as other Jewish students, parents, alumni, and allies, the College will pursue several initiatives to promote Jewish and Israeli students’ wellbeing and sense of safety on campus. We expect initial efforts to include continuous and productive engagement with Jewish student leadership, enhancing staff support for Jewish student life, and exploring opportunities to partner with organizations that would uplift the Jewish student experience at Occidental.
College leadership and ORSL will continue to meet with the Muslim Students Association and others to identify ways to uplift Muslim and MENA students on campus, including support for their dietary needs and enhanced devotional spaces. Initial efforts will include reviewing options for additional staff focused on supporting Muslim and Middle East/North Africa (MENA) student life.
Through the Civil Rights & Title IX Office and Bias Education and Support Team (BEST), the College will launch a preventative, educational campaign to address potential antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bias or harassment on campus. This campaign will include, among other things: assessment of the current campus environment and potential for harassment; offering training opportunities for students, faculty, and staff related to identifying, preventing, and reporting antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of harassment; and development of educational materials specifically related to combating antisemitism and Islamophobia. The Civil Rights & Title IX Office and BEST will also continue to promptly respond to any individual complaints they receive, consistent with their respective procedures.
The College will sponsor or promote various forums for restorative interactions among students, primarily, as well as other members of the Occidental community. The Task Force on Promoting Community and Safety is pleased to announce that as an initial effort, the College will welcome Interfaith America to campus for two days in January 2024 (dates to be announced shortly). The Interfaith America team will host a series of listening sessions designed to create space for diverse viewpoints to be heard in a neutral setting, and will return recommendations for enhancing interfaith cooperation and bridge-building on campus.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND SUPPORT FOR STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS AND POLITICAL ACTIVITY
In partnership with SLICE, the Facilities Department, the Office of Student Conduct, and Campus Safety, the College reaffirms its commitment to enforcing the Code of Student Conduct, Posting & Publicity Policy, Right to Dissent & Demonstration Policy, and Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policy, among other core policies. SLICE will coordinate training sessions with student organizations to promote their understanding of College policies and provide information on how to engage in political activism consistent with those policies. Individuals or groups who engage in threatening, destructive, harassing, or otherwise impermissible behavior will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. The Office of Student Conduct and the Civil Rights & Title IX Office will continue to promptly address reports that are submitted to their offices, while keeping individual cases confidential.The College also reaffirms its repudiation of doxxing, encourages students and faculty to learn more about protecting their online presence and to immediately report any safety concerns, and will respond to reports of online harassment or doxxing by College community members.
Faculty from various departments are developing lists of speakers to invite to the campus (expected Spring 2024). In addition, faculty are exploring how to expand curricular offerings in this area, and to this end, we encourage and support the development of new interdisciplinary minor programs that will expand the range of our academic discourse about the region. The Task Force on Promoting Community and Safety will support and highlight for the community relevant curricular offerings and faculty-led, co-curricular activities.
BUILDING CAPACITY FOR CHANGE
The College is seeking to partner with donors and organizations that are interested in promoting a greater understanding of antisemitism and Islamophobia, as well as those who are committed particularly to supporting expansion of Occidental’s related curricular offerings.
POLICY REVIEW AND IMPLEMENTATION
We will issue a clarifying policy related to appropriate use of College-affiliated social media accounts, to ensure that such accounts are reviewed by responsible personnel and used to promote the College’s programs and activities. We will also review the College’s Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policy in light of recent guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, to ensure that the policy adequately addresses the trend of increasing antisemitism and Islamophobia on College campuses. We will also review our policies and resources related to doxxing and online harassment.
The College will continue to update our community about the efforts just described and will launch an informational web page noting related events, initiatives, and resources. I am encouraged by the fundamental belief that together we will continue to shape this institution into the exemplar of academic excellence, collective hope, and mutual understanding to which we aspire.