Occidental Helps Launch Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance

Jim Tranquada

Occidental College President Harry J. Elam, Jr. has joined with leaders from five other liberal arts colleges to organize a national coalition to address racial inequities at liberal arts colleges.

Joining Occidental as founding members of the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) are DePauw, Oberlin, Macalester, Pomona and Skidmore colleges. A total of 51 schools, including such institutions as Bowdoin, Swarthmore, and Williams, have signed on as inaugural members, with efforts to add more members underway.

The Alliance was formed at the instigation of Lori White, the new president of DePauw, during a conversation among new college presidents and presidents of color earlier this year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Elam says.

Elam hopes that the Alliance will be a critical resource informing colleges' work on issues of equity and justice, diversity and inclusion. “Issues of justice and equity are a shared priority for all of us, and I think that’s true across the country, given the number of schools that already have signed up,” he says. “We’re excited to be part of the original group of colleges leading this effort—one that we hope will not only help us make a difference in our own institutions, but in the country as a whole.”

Critical to the Alliance at that time and in moving forward is a partnership with Dr. Shaun Harper and USC’s Race and Equity Center. Working with Harper and the Center, LACRELA plans to offer members a number of tools to support their racial equity work including:

  • Beginning in January 2021, a monthly racial equity eConvening series of live, synchronous professional learning experiences, each on a particular aspect of racial equity, that will focus primarily on strategies and practical approaches.
  • Workplace climate surveys administered by USC’s Race and Equity Center on a three-year rotational basis: a student survey in year one, a faculty survey in year two, and a staff survey in the third membership year.
  • An online portal of equity-related resources and tools available to all employees of member institutions.

In addition, presidents of member colleges will meet regularly to share strategies, seek advice, and brainstorm ways to leverage the Alliance to have a collective impact on racial equity in higher education. “We hope it will be a forum where people feel a sense of trust, where they can ask questions, learn from the experience of others and seek assistance in problem-solving,” Elam said. “We also expect to be proactive in terms of exercising our collective power that we believe can be helpful in addressing justice and equity issues.”