Yearbook photos and the way ahead


To the Occidental Community:

During spring break and the ensuing week, I’ve listened to many members of our community weigh in about the recent news regarding the yearbook photos, the naming of our new pool, aspects of Oxy’s history, and the experience of students of color on campus today. I had the opportunity to attend Friday’s ASOC Town Hall, along with Dean Flot, Dean Sternberg and others, to hear from students directly about these and other issues. I want to take this opportunity to update the community about where I believe we are, and the nature of the discussions and actions that lie ahead.  

I believe it is time to start moving beyond the focus on the individuals and to begin to turn our attention to broader institutional questions and current student concerns. As I explained in my March 14 message, the pool will have a new name, yet to be determined, which will be informed by input from the Oxy community.

Coming out of the town hall, last week’s faculty meeting and other conversations, there are a number of institutional issues we can and should address. Among these are:

  • Current campus issues of race, diversity and inclusion - We have made progress over the past few years, and there is more left to do. Friday’s town hall provided insights about some specific opportunities that might be addressed before the semester ends, including investments in initiatives to support the day-to-day experience of black students and other students of color.  As I said at the town hall, I believe it is the responsibility of the College to find a way to fund these initiatives.

  • Oxy’s institutional history - The presence of these photos should be a starting point for an honest and thorough discussion about Oxy’s history--and not just the 1980s. What does it say about Oxy’s culture--about administrators, students, faculty and staff--that photos like these could pass without comment? Why would the College bestow an honorary degree on a leading eugenicist in 1929--and then honor him again in 1976?

  • Any discussion of our institutional history inevitably leads to larger societal issues. Addressing these could include education on the history and context of blackface and what its persistence means for us today. The materials Professor Courtney Baker shared with campus last week are an excellent starting point.

There will surely be other issues and questions--and through the continued discussions that Dean Flot and Dean Sternberg are having with students and faculty respectively, we will develop and revise this list as needed. Beyond the audiences on campus, others need to be involved.  The discussion of Oxy’s history and its implications for today is already on the agenda for the Board of Trustees’ April meeting. This meeting will involve community voices, and you’ll hear more about that from the Board in the coming days. We also have begun a conversation with the Alumni Board of Governors for advice on how to involve alumni.

I’m confident that we can identify some immediate steps that can move us forward before the last day of classes. We might also find that some items will require longer-term solutions. Similarly, as we listen to feedback over the next few weeks, we should evaluate what can be solved through existing college structures or whether a new multi-constituent group would be helpful to move us forward and enact new initiatives. In the spirit of ASOC President Jacques Lesure’s call this year for shared governance, and the longstanding tradition of shared governance with faculty, I’m optimistic that we can work together to make substantial progress in the days and weeks ahead.
 
Best,
President Veitch