Author: Sarah Corsa
Oxy United for Black Liberation is demanding President Jonathan Veitch’s immediate resignation, claiming that he mishandled issues of diversity and sexual assault on campus.
The group, led by members of Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE), began occupying the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) Monday to pressure the administration to meet a list of 14 demands, the first of which is Veitch’s resignation. By that afternoon, over 400 students occupied the AGC, according to Oxy United’s Twitter page.
Oxy United’s list of demands includes the creation of a Black studies program and an increase in the number of tenured faculty of color. Multiple demands also call for additional funds to be allocated to certain offices and groups on campus, such as the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) — which they demand be changed from a dean position to a vice president position — Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Harambee, a student group for Black men.
Earlier this semester, CODE delivered a list of demands to former Dean of Students Barbara Avery following an arrest of a man of color outside the Green Bean Sept. 5. These demands, in full, are included on Oxy United’s list as number 14.
Initially, student organizers announced at a rally directly preceding the occupation that Veitch had until Friday at 5 p.m. to meet numbers 2–14 of Oxy United’s demands. In a statement titled “Strategy for Black Student Agenda” posted on the CODE: Oxy Facebook page Tuesday, CODE amended what was said at the rally, stating that only fulfilling demands 2–14 was insufficient, and that they have adopted a policy of non-negotiation with Veitch and his administration.
“Until a meaningful shift in culture occurs through his resignation or removal, we will continue to sacrifice our own well-being and risk disciplinary action,” the post reads. “We will move the Board of Trustees to install a President that has the capability to meet our needs, and the consciousness to center Blackness.”
The board of trustees sent an email Tuesday afternoon pledging its support of Veitch, saying they “have no intention of changing the leadership of the College.” A post on the CODE White Facebook page encouraged students to email the board of trustees reaffirming their desire for Veitch’s removal using information from a “15 Reasons to #ImpeachVeitch” handout.
Acting Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard said in a statement to The Occidental Weekly Monday that she, along with other administrators, were reviewing the demands.
According to a post by Ben Weiss (senior) on the CODE White Facebook page Tuesday, students are requested to not speak with any administrators and to refer them to the CODE: Oxy Facebook page. Posters with a photo of Marty Sharkey, associate vice president of marketing and communications, are posted in the AGC instructing students not engage with him. Tuesday’s Campus Climate Town Hall, hosted by the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), was cancelled when no students attended.
Student organizers and other supporters of the movement declined to comment to the Weekly, citing a desire for people of color to control the narrative.
The sit-in follows a weekend of protests and debriefing sessions that started with a walkout Thursday, organized by members of CODE and BSA. This initial demonstration was part of a nationwide protest in solidarity with activists at the University of Missouri (Mizzou).
At 11 a.m., students, most of whom were dressed in black, left their classes and met in the quad. Student organizers then led groups through campus to disrupt classrooms and the library, ultimately converging back in the Academic Quad. Over 600 students, faculty and staff, according to an LA Progressive article by junior Olivia Davis, were present at the teach-in that followed. Students formed three circles: Black students in an inner circle, other students of color in the next layer and white students on the perimeter. Black students led the dialogue by sharing their experiences with racism at Occidental in the classroom, at parties and with administrators.
When a student organizer asked Veitch to enter the circle from his place on the periphery, he fielded questions from students, at one point saying that he would resign if he did not feel he could act in students’ best interests. During the conversation, Veitch mentioned an alumnus who was allegedly found responsible for sexual assault while at Occidental, which prompted students to name multiple other current students as rapists. At that point, he left the demonstration, a moment that is cited in the “15 Reasons” document as evidence of Veitch’s lack of commitment to fulfilling students’ needs.
“I am not attracted to this position for what it gives me,” Veitch later said in an interview with the Weekly. “I am attracted to this position for what it offers this institution. And I really, really want to be helpful, to move it to a place where people feel respected and where they thrive. I will be the first to conclude if I can’t do that. I don’t think I will need people to tell me, I think I will see that pretty clearly.”
After more Black students and three Black faculty members spoke about their experience at Occidental, the crowd proceeded up the stairs and into the AGC, chanting “Where’s our president/We don’t know/Check the Fiat/There he goes.” The demonstration ultimately concluded in the president’s backyard, where students broke up into smaller groups to share suggestions for how to move forward. Veitch then re-appeared and spoke before student organizers dismissed the group.
The same night, students involved in the walkout received death threats from other students. According to an email Friday from Director of Communications Jim Tranquada on behalf of Howard and Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay, the threat was not directed at participants of the demonstration in general and was based on a private matter. Campus Safety increased patrols Friday, and Clay told the Weekly that an investigation of the threats is ongoing.
“We cannot be a community where we respond to people with whom we disagree by making threats,” Veitch told the Weekly. “That’s just kind of a bottom line of decency and respect. And anybody that we find that’s doing that will be treated as severely as possible within the limits of the policies that that behavior falls under.”
Later Thursday evening, spaces to reflect on and process the day’s events were offered by the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and jointly by BSA, La Raza Coalition, Asian Pacific Americans for Liberation (APAL) and CODE.
CODE faculty also released a statement in support of the movement and the student organizers’ demands, calling on the community to actively confront issues of racism and inequality and “commit to working for a just, equal, and compassionate community that nurtures all.”
Veitch sent a campus-wide email Friday in response to the rally, thanking students involved for sharing their stories and pledging to take action.
Over the following weekend, multiple meetings and events, many drawing groups of over 100 students, were organized to continue the movement and discuss its future. Information about events and how students can support the movement has primarily been distributed via CODE: Oxy, CODE White and Oxy United’s Facebook pages, in addition to Facebook event pages created for individual events.
At the football and basketball games Saturday, student activists wore all black, and many turned their backs to the American flag while the national anthem was sung. According to a post Saturday on CODE: Oxy’s Facebook page, students were heckled while singing the Black National Anthem, and white allies were shoved while trying to leave the stadium during the football game. The basketball team turned their warm-up uniforms inside out at their game so that the Occidental logo was not showing, in solidarity with Oxy United.
Other meetings were held throughout the weekend where students could recap and reflect on the previous days’ events. At a BSA meeting Sunday, BSA leaders reviewed the protest’s timeline at Occidental and on campuses around the country. Attendees then broke off into groups to discuss Veitch’s actions at Thursday’s walkout and the campus-wide email he sent Friday in response to the demonstration.
At the meeting, students criticized Veitch for language they believe implies that he plans to rely on the CDO position to solve issues of racism on campus.
CDO candidates will visit campus Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday to speak with students, faculty and staff. The CDO could begin as early as next semester, depending on their commitments to their current place of employment, Veitch said in an interview.
Attendees at a reflection session Sunday night for white allies considered what allyship would look like moving forward for the movement at Occidental. The CODE White Facebook page was established that night as a group in which white allies could discuss how to stand in solidarity with their Black peers and peers of color.
In addition, APAL, La Raza Coalition, Las Hermanas Aliadas and Los Compadres issued statements of solidarity with Black students at Occidental Monday.
At Monday’s rally, student organizers implored the crowd to continue attending the protests for an equitable and just campus with the same passion exhibited during Thursday’s demonstration. They reiterated experiences of racism on campus, such as the defacement of a Trayvon Martin memorial in February 2014.
Student organizers specified at the rally that the protests on Occidental’s campus were in solidarity with the protesters at Mizzou and also represent a fight to justify the experiences of students of color at Occidental. The movement to create a campus in which students of color can thrive has been ongoing since 1968, when the Black Student Caucus (BSC) called for Black studies courses, an exchange program for students and faculty with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and a $15,000 fund for BSC.
The rally then transitioned into an occupation of the AGC. Antoniqua Roberson (senior) announced that students would occupy the building until the administration met their demands.
“We are prepared to camp here, day in, day out, sunrise, sunset, until our demands are not only heard, but actually met,” Roberson said at the rally.
Students poured through the glass doors and down the spiral staircase chanting statements such as, “67 grand, meet our demands,” referencing to the cost of attending Occidental for a year.
Students sat against the windows in the upper rotunda and in the hallways of the bottom floor with their laptops, in addition to pitching tents outside of the building. The wings were designated as quiet areas, and elsewhere students set up video game consoles and led meditations. Boxes of chips, cookies and bottled water were brought in. Online forms were created and disseminated via Facebook to facilitate the stream of resources and estimate how many students would be spending the night each day of the week.
At press time, 72 students had signed up to sleep in the AGC Tuesday night, 73 signed up for Wednesday night and 55 had signed up for Thursday night.
A template letter asking professors to stand in solidarity with student activists and hold class in the AGC was distributed to students via email and a post by CODE White Monday.
Events, such as several classes, the ASOC Senate meeting and the DEB meeting, were relocated to the AGC.
At 3 p.m. Tuesday, student organizers announced that students would now occupy the offices of administrators. By 4:30 p.m., the Registrar’s Office, in addition to other departments in AGC, closed in response to the occupation.
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