The Associated Students of Occidental (ASOC) Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) sponsored Occidental’s first Person of Color (POC) Formal Feb. 10 at the Belasco Lounge in downtown Los Angeles. Eushrah Hossain (junior) and Dorian Rico (senior) developed this event in the hopes that it would foster a sense of community among students of color. Each invited student was given a plus one that could be given to any Occidental student or non-Occidental guest.
Hossain and Rico began formulating the idea of a POC formal during the fall 2016 semester. After a tense election season, Hossain and Rico were looking for a place where POC students could come together to have fun and decompress in a safe environment. Feeling excluded from much of the campus’ social events, the duo decided to take matters into their own hands — without the backing of any club or organization — by planning and orchestrating the event.
“As students of color, we feel left out from a lot of the Greek organizations, and one of the biggest things they do is formals. We wanted community, and we wanted students of color to feel special,” Hossain said.
Rico and Hossain crafted the event to be wholly inclusive. They posted the event on a Facebook group where Occidental students of color could communicate and sent the invitation to all cultural clubs. The invitation stated that if anybody did not receive an invitation, but felt as if they should have received one, they could email the organizers to get one. No one was turned away at the door. The response from students, according to Hossain and Rico, has been generally positive.
Hossain thought the presence of white students deepened the event’s significance, in spite of an anonymous Facebook post on “Oxy Confessions” that expressed concern regarding white attendees who do not support POC in their own lives.
“We wanted white allies there. We need people to be down for POC causes,” Hossain said.
As independent student organizers, Hossain and Rico originally planned on receiving funding for the event from the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Rhonda Brown instead of from a cultural club. Hossain and Rico proposed the event to Brown in November and received her response over Thanksgiving Break. To their surprise, Brown did not grant funding because she considered the event to be too exclusive.
“If this event was a ‘conservative’ formal, or, worse yet, a ‘white’ formal, we would be up in arms. Why is it different for the ‘POC?’ There has to be a consistent rule,” Brown said.
Hossain and Rico did not anticipate the refusal.
“When we asked [Brown] for funding, I felt discouraged,” Rico said.
Rico and Hossain decided to appeal to DEB for funding. DEB is run and organized entirely by students; the occupation of the AGC in November 2015 created social pressure that ultimately led the administration to increase the organization’s funding. Venitia Boyce (sophomore) a student life liaison for DEB, said the board unanimously approved the funding. Anyone — established clubs, professors, resident advisors or individual students — can request funding from DEB. The funding is distributed if six out of the nine board members approve the request and if the cause directly relates to Occidental’s mission statement.
“Our job is to make sure all students and all groups are represented. A lot of the barriers POC face on campus involve funding — often times our clubs aren’t as established,” Boyce said.
DEB has funded multiple events aimed at enriching the sense of diversity and equity on Occidental’s campus in the past. Previous events include a Diwali celebration for the South Asian Students Association, a lecture on restorative justice and Black History Month events. The POC Formal, however, was the first of its kind — never before had DEB sponsored a dance that catered specifically to one group of Occidental students, nor has any dance been proposed and planned by individuals.
“It’s definitely a new thing that had not been proposed before. It’s the largest thing DEB has supported,” Boyce said.
Despite the scramble for funding, Rico and Hossain persevered and the event came to fruition. More than 350 people attended the dance, according to Hossain. Planned as a party that students of color could call their own, according to Hossain and Rico, the formal accomplished its goal.
Robi Bhowmik’s (junior) experience at the POC formal affirms the success that Hossain and Rico feel.
“I definitely thought the event was a success,” Bhowmik said. “It was great of Dorian and [Hossain] to centralize Oxy POC by giving us our own formal. [It] probably was the most connected I felt at an Oxy party.”