In the past couple of weeks, the ASOC Direct Action Committee has engaged students and assembled a list of concerns focused on improving the quality of experience for Black students on our campus in light of recent events.
Yesterday, Jacques Lesure, Dean Rob Flot, and President Jonathan Veitch met to discuss those recommendations. The discussion was candid and engaging. While we did not agree on every point, we discovered that we share many of the same ambitions for how we can better support our Black students, realizing that this has implications for other marginalized students as well. Some of the concerns raised by student leadership can be addressed right away. Others require further deliberations by key stakeholders—in this case, our faculty, Dean of Student Affairs, Dean of the College, and the Board of Trustees—all of whom are part of our community’s shared governance. We agreed that we would put together a task force to ensure that the concerns that cannot be addressed right away are pursued in a timely fashion. Here is a brief summary of our discussion:
- Naming the Pool: We are open to a variety of names for the pool—especially those that embrace Occidental’s mission and history. (Some faculty have suggested Sammy Lee as a possibility.) It is very important, however, that any name for the pool come with resources to support the gap in the construction budget. We are already committed to its completion and expect it to be finished on schedule. President Veitch understands that this course of action is in conflict with the demand, thus the demand will not be met.(The President and the Board has the ultimate authority to decide this.)
- Recognizing Black Student Leadership: We are always looking for ways to express our appreciation for the dedication and hard work involved in student leadership. We welcome the opportunity to honor the leadership of our Black students through awards. (Dean Flot and Student Affairs will find ways to recognize student contributions equitably.)
- Fund a long-term archival project led by faculty and students intended to name Oxy’s past and present day violence for public display in the Academic Commons: We will support any research on the College’s past and present day relationship to these issues that students have experienced, and that students and their faculty choose to focus on as part of our Summer Undergraduate Research program. We will display the results in the Academic Commons. These findings should inform our ongoing advocacy and efforts. (The Dean of the College has the ultimate decision on this; she has already indicated her support)
- Rescinding an Honorary Degree in Eugenics: We share the desire to revoke an honorary degree from someone who advocated eugenics. The President has asked for a meeting of the Honorary Degrees Committee of the Board of Trustees to take a vote on rescinding the degree. That meeting will be held in the next two weeks. (The Trustees make the final decision on this.)
- Supporting community-based learning and research: Civic engagement is at the heart of the College’s Strategic Plan and its capital campaign entitled “For Good.” We are interested in expanding options for faculty and students to collaborate with community partners of their choosing. We will explore the logistical and financial challenges of doing so, for example in the CCBL’s Education in Action program. If there is sufficient interest in expanding the communities we serve, we will raise the necessary funds to accomplish this. (CCBL, the Dean of Students, VP for Advancement and the Dean of the College are key stakeholders here)
- Support for Student Leadership Development: We share student interest in expanding opportunities for mentorship and advising dedicated to student leadership within affinity groups, such as Black Womxn Thrive, Harambee, and beyond. (Dean Flot is committed to thinking through how this might be accomplished.)
- Additional Support for Under-represented Students in STEM fields: Students have asked for the ability to explore the implications of the sciences through the lens of the social sciences and humanities. The College has resources available for any student who wishes to conduct summer research in these areas; the Dean of the College has funded such efforts in the past and is open to departmental interest from STEM for changes in the future. (The Academic Planning Committee and the Dean of the College are responsible for this). In addition, Occidental has an initiative underway to expand the pipeline for women and students of color in STEM, Economics and Computer Science. With the help of our Career Services program, we believe that we are uniquely positioned to work in partnership with our alumni and the business community to provide our students with unparalleled opportunities for employment in fields in which they have been historically under-represented.
- Support for Black Studies: We enthusiastically support a robust curriculum in Black Studies at Occidental College. And we are committed to providing the resources necessary for the support of this new major on all fronts: faculty lines, research support, speakers, internships, etc. Students have called for a faculty line for a senior-level appointment in Black Studies to replace the departing Professor Baker and mitigate issues of faculty burnout and fatigue. This will need to be initiated by the Black Studies advisory group. (The precise form this major takes--program or department--depends on levels of student interest and the will of our faculty teaching in the field, in collaboration with the Dean of the College, the Black Studies advisory group and the Academic Planning Committee.)
- Establish a fundraising campaign in Institutional Advancement to replenish these funds and support these explicit priorities: The College is about to launch the public phase of a capital campaign. A major component of that campaign is devoted to those elements that make us unique. We are proud of our diversity and we are committed to raising funds for initiatives, such as those outlined in this statement, which enhance the experience of our Black students, and also students who identify as LGBTQ+, Latinx, API, international and first generation students. (The President and VP for Fundraising are primarily responsible for this important initiative)
We are encouraged by our conversation, and we see this as an important step toward the kind of institutional collaboration between students, administration, faculty and staff that Jacques has been working toward throughout his tenure as ASOC president. Our next step is to develop a working group that will address the details of these initiatives, and, consider the additional issues, dynamics, and concerns that have arisen this semester about the overall experience of Black students and other marginalized groups at the College.
Jonathan Veitch Jacques Lesure
President ASOC President