The ongoing campus dialogue on diversity and equity came to a head last week after two members of the Phi Kappa Psi (Phi Psi) fraternity posted an event on Facebook making light of recent global tragedies. The event, titled “End of the World Party: ISIS, Ebola, & Malaysian Airlines,” was quickly removed from the social media site, but not before provoking outcry from the Occidental community.
The incident prompted condemnation from individual students and campus groups, most prominently Coalition @ Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE). The group demonstrated in the Quad on Thursday, carrying a chalkboard with messages such as “Black lives matter.” That same day, the group posted an open letter to the Occidental community on its Facebook page, calling attention to the institutional inadequacies they believe allowed for the party to be planned in the first place.
CODE member Nina Monet Reynoso (junior) echoed this sentiment.
“I think that this is just one form of racism and sexism that appears on campus,” Reynoso (junior) said. “And we’ve seen so many throughout our time here. Ultimately, although they’re different incidents, they’re all connected and all supporting this idea that this campus fosters institutionalized racism and we have nothing to do about it.”
Discussion about discrimination at Occidental continued in a meeting with students and administrators Friday evening. Attendees said this incident highlighted the need to implement CODE’s recommendations. Namely, participants advocated for creating a chief diversity officer, hiring more minority tenure-track professors and increasing the transparency of the administration’s response to bias incidents.
Additionally, those involved in Thursday’s protest shared that they had faced resistance from a portion of the campus who thought that CODE’s reaction toward the fraternity was too severe. As proof, they distributed aggressive comments posted on Yik Yak, a popular anonymous online forum. Faced with a weekend of campus-wide and potentially alcohol-fueled events, several attendees were fearful about remaining on campus.
Students also expressed frustration with what they felt was a lack of accountability within the administration.
“I think that there are certain high-level administrators who are disjointed from the day-to-day experiences of students, and that really shows in the ways in which they talk about helping students and helping them become more open and culturally competent, because they seem to not understand what is actually going on and what the real barriers are,” CODE member Abhilasha Bhola (junior) said.
In a public statement issued Monday, Phi Psi outlined the steps it will take to rectify the incident. The fraternity has suspended both individuals involved in creating the party, one permanently and the other pending review next semester. In addition, the organization intends to create an internal Diversity and Equity Committee and cancelled their annual Movember philanthropy event in favor of sponsoring educational events on diversity.
Both Phi Psi and CODE expressed a desire to work together to address racism on campus.
“This is not an us-versus-them situation,” Phi Psi Corresponding Secretary Andy Eichar (junior) said. “There are many brothers, including myself, who share some of feelings that CODE presented, so it’s not a factual fight.”
For students affected by the incident, or who feel affected by racism on campus generally, Bhola recommended attending the NightCC program, held in the Intercultural Community Center every Sunday at 7 p.m. According to Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne, the chief diversity officer will not start working until next fall, so students are encouraged to speak to her or Interim Assistant Dean of Intercultural Affairs Sherry Simpson-Dean about discrimination-related problems.
“No student should have to feel that they have no where to go or no one to talk to,” Turenne said via email. “Incidents can be reported to the Dean of Students Office or to Campus Safety. I do encourage students to report and I support students who have the courage to do so.”