Updates from Occidental leadership on new initiatives that the College is launching, and resources that are available, specifically related to the support of our Black student community.

Dear Students,

From the outset of this fall semester, at this unprecedented moment in time, we want to assure you that racial equity and improving the racial climate at Occidental are among our most important priorities. We know that many in our community are still grieving, reacting to, and processing the tragic deaths of Ilah Richardson and Jaden Burris that occurred early in the spring semester. Further, the national climate as it pertains to anti Blackness, white supremacy, and the Black Lives Matter movement—most recently with the police shooting of a Black man in front of his children in Wisconsin—all compel us to proactively address racial issues and concerns at Occidental. Now, more than ever, we recognize the need to engage fully in efforts to support our Black community.

Thus, as we begin this new semester, we want to provide you with information on new initiatives that we are launching, and resources that we have available, specifically related to the support of our Black student community. Notably, the Intercultural Community Center, together with other key offices within the Division of Student Affairs, are leading an effort to design and implement a Black Advocacy Plan that actively focuses on our Black students and their welfare on our campus. At the core of this plan is a concern for the health and wellness of our Black students, their sense of belonging at the College, and developing and forging connections with people and programs that provide support and empower our Black student community. ICC Director Chris Arguedas has been meeting regularly with Black students and staff since April to develop this plan. These meetings are ongoing and are open to students. And although implementation of the plan will begin soon, it will continue to evolve based upon emerging needs. It is not too late to participate. Please contact carguedas@oxy.edu if you would like to become involved in this important work.

Earlier this month, the ASOC's Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) presented the results of its Comprehensive Student Needs Assessment, administered in July, that focused on three areas—housing, financial aid, and academics. DEB shared their results with a number of entities and offices at the College, some of which include the faculty, the Equity and Justice Committee (EJC), the ICC, the Dean of Students office, Financial Aid, Emmons, SLICE, and Residential Education and Housing Services. The faculty and the administration are taking the results of DEB’s survey into consideration as we plan for actions around equity and justice throughout the College.

The EJC also has been active over the summer and made some initial recommendations to President Elam in mid-August. In keeping with these recommendations, given the essential need for a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), the president has determined that the College will hire an interim CDO despite the ongoing hiring freeze. The interim CDO will play a key role in identifying and addressing critical areas of concern for the Black community and other marginalized groups at the College. In addition, the interim CDO will be closely engaged in our College-wide Equity and Justice strategic planning process, which will represent an important step in institutionalizing opportunity, involvement, and accountability at Occidental. We intend to begin the hiring process for the interim CDO immediately—a process that will involve the College community as a whole, while keeping the needs of our Black student community front and center. Our goal is to have the interim CDO in place by the end of this semester, if not before. Further, we anticipate that the interim CDO will play a role in planning for and selecting our permanent CDO.

There are also a number of resources in place and events scheduled to support the health and well-being of our Black students:

  • The ICC seeks to uplift and support the experiences of students who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, low-income or first-generation. The ICC also aims to reduce institutional barriers for marginalized groups through intersectional programming, identity-specific services and structural resources. The ICC, in partnership with Black students, intends to offer the campus community anti-bias and anti-racist training this fall. 

  • Emmons Staff Therapist Irma Breakfield and ICC Director Chris Arguedas will co-facilitate A Gathering of Grief, Healing and Gratitude: IIah and Jaden on September 22. The start of the Covid-19 pandemic separated our community as we were in the process of gathering together to grieve the lives of Ilah and Jaden. Now as we begin the fall semester, we return virtually to commune together and give presence to our feelings and memories. This gathering is an opportunity for BIPOC students to continue to express their grief, move toward healing, and express gratitude for Ilah and Jaden. 

  • Irma Breakfield is also hosting Black Voices, a dedicated space for Black students to virtually “drop in” for one-on-one confidential conversations. A space to be heard, validated and supported. A space designed to detangle the complexities of life. A space where Black Wellness is the agenda. Hosted Tuesdays from 1-3 p.m. (PST); click here for video or call (323) 259-2657.

  • Irma is also hosting The Conversation: The invisible Harm of Race-Based Trauma. The consequences of experiencing racial injustice in any form, personally or observationally, can have a lasting effect on one's well being. This conversation is to acknowledge the multigenerational harm of racial injustice, to recognize the effects it has on us mentally and physically, and to start the development of a proactive plan for healing. Date/time TBD; email Irma Breakfield for more information.

  • Emmons Staff Therapist Rich Estrada is hosting a Men of Color support circle, a safe and confidential virtual group open to self-identified men of diverse cultural backgrounds that provides healing and support, encourages self exploration and fosters community. This group discusses issues surrounding masculinity and gender, racial and ethnic identity, leadership, love and intimacy, compassionate accountability, patriarchy, mental health and anything relevant to men of color. Date/time TBD; email Rich Estrada for more information.

  • Finally, Emmons has compiled a list of emotional/mental health resources for BIPOC, which can be found here.

Please know, we are committed to actively listening to you and working with you over the course of this semester and beyond. The three of us welcome your thoughts and feedback. To that end, Dean Flot and President Elam each have office hours for students, and Dean Sternberg is happy to meet with students as well. To arrange a meeting with Dean Sternberg, please send an email to deanofcollege@oxy.edu. Most importantly, we intend to keep you included and informed, and will continue to seek your input regarding racial injustice, equity, and anti-blackness at Occidental.

We hope you all have a great start to the fall semester.

Very best,

President Harry J. Elam, Jr.
Dean Rob Flot
Dean Wendy Sternberg

Contact the Office of Equity & Justice
AGC Room 108