Author: Sarah Corsa
Rhonda Brown, Occidental’s first chief diversity officer (CDO) and vice president for equity and inclusion, formally introduced herself to the community in a meeting Tuesday in Choi Auditorium. In addition, she reviewed the administration’s progress on meeting Oxy United for Black Liberation’s 14 demands issued last semester. About 50 people — including administrators, faculty, staff and about 15 students — attended the event, which was open to the entire campus.
The meeting’s purpose was to present Brown and outline the role of her office to the community. Brown, who visited campus and interviewed for her position amid the Oxy United occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center in November, began as CDO two months ago. She shared her impressions of Occidental since then and her understanding of the college’s perspective on issues of diversity moving forward.
“What I know about Occidental is that there is a resiliency about you,” Brown said.
Brown chairs the Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which President Jonathan Veitch created in December to monitor the administration’s implementation of the action plan created in response to the student demands. The bulk of her presentation focused on the administration’s response thus far to each of Oxy United’s demands.
The administration met several of the demands in November when the occupation was underway: It changed the CDO position to vice presidential level, increased its annual budget by 50 percent and doubled its start-up budget, addressing demands No. 2 and 3. In response to demand No. 11, it doubled the Intercultural Affairs (ICA) budget and committed to ensuring its long-term survival.
Demands No. 4 and 7 to fund the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Harambee, the student group for Black men, respectively, were achieved through alternate channels. DEB received funding through a student body vote approving a $10 raise in the student body fee, while Harambee joined with ICA and will be funded through its budget.
Veitch has maintained that he does not plan to resign — Oxy United’s first demand.
Of the demands that were not be met immediately, Brown updated the audience on their current status within the college.
To address demand No. 6 for a Black studies department, the American studies department hired two tenure-track African American studies professors in the past month, who will be responsible for designing a Black studies program.
Demand No. 7 calls for an increase in the number of tenured faculty of color by 20 percent by the 2017–18 academic year and a 100 percent increase in the next five years. Brown challenged the idea that goals for faculty diversity should be measured by precise percentages. Instead, she outlined the college’s steps toward recruiting a more diverse pool of applicants and explained that to her, the process of recruiting diverse faculty is more valuable to focus on than the end result. Of the six new professors hired for next academic year, Brown emphasized that four are African-American women, including the two African-American studies professors.
In response to demand No. 8 for mandatory training for all college employees on how to help people from marginalized backgrounds, Brown said that hiring departments will attend training in the spring and summer, Campus Safety will attend training in the summer and academic departments will attend training in the fall.
The Campus Safety Advisory Committee, which was convened in November to address demand No. 9 to demilitarize Campus Safety, will present Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein with its recommendations by April 15. The results will be released to the campus by the end of the semester. Brown said that this step also addresses demand No. 14 — that Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity’s demands following the Sept. 5 arrest of a community member also be met.
Although the administration agreed to demand No. 10 for the immediate removal of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from campus in November, Brown acknowledged that that did not actually happen until March, when LAPD’s contract to use Rush Gym for an officer basketball league expired. From now on, Brown said, LAPD will only be present on campus during emergencies.
Per demand No. 12, the First Year Residential Education program has been eliminated. A reform of the Cultural Studies Program is still in development, and those updates could debut in the fall.
Although demand No. 13 calls for physicians of color at Emmons Wellness Center, Brown clarified that Emmons does not staff any physicians, only physician assistants and nurses, but that a counselor of color has been hired.
In addition to the steps that directly address the demands, Brown proposed open monthly meetings between herself and students to ensure clear communication between the two. In response to a student question about how she would begin to rebuild trust between students and administrators, Brown replied she thought these meetings could help.
“I’m convinced that in the craziness that was the occupation — and I say that as politely as I can — I think that we were all thinking about 60 miles an hour and probably walking about 20,” Brown said. “And so I’m convinced that while 15 demands may have come forward, I bet there are another 15 that didn’t hit the table. What I need to do is try to find a way to process and figure out what those 15 are, so we can manage them before we get there.”
While Brown acknowledged that she is a member of the administration, she said she would neither side automatically with the administration on all issues nor promise to achieve every student request. Instead, she hopes to act as a compass for all groups on campus, leading the community in a direction that allows all members to thrive.
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