At Friday’s Experience Oxy Admitted Students Day, about 150 student activists wearing black filled the stands of Rush Gym during the lunch for admitted students and their families. Some held posters with black and white photographs from Oxy United for Black Liberation’s occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) in November. In the front, student activists held a banner with the words “Movement Not A Moment,” the slogan adopted during the occupation.
The goal was not to dissuade admitted students from attending Occidental, according to movement supporter Daniel Waruingi (first year). When they convened in the academic quad at noon, student organizers said to the group of student activists that instead, their goal was to inform admitted students about the realities of attending the college that may not be portrayed in brochures.
Organizer Raihana Haynes-Venerable (junior) echoed these sentiments, adding that demonstrators wanted to communicate messages of support to prospective students.
“We wanted to express ourselves to admitted students and to tell them that they have a place here, especially if they’re a person of color,” Haynes-Venerable said. “There’s going to be a community for them, that will stand up for them [and] that wants them here.”
As admitted students and their families walked into the gym for lunch, the student activists clapped and cheered.
Interim Dean of the College Kerry Thompson introduced the group of student activists in the stands, saying that although the group was not part of the day’s organized presentation, he wanted to celebrate them nonetheless. Chance Ward* (sophomore), a spokesperson for Oxy United, subsequently approached the microphone, citing Thompson’s words as an example of how the administration continues to co-opt Oxy United’s actions.
Ward then read a statement on behalf of Oxy United about instances of racism on campus, such as the vandalism of on-campus memorials for Trayvon Martin and casualties of war in Gaza, and efforts by students to create an anti-racist space through the occupation of the AGC.
“But the administration has yet to fully support students of color, and while we will continue to push and to the create institutional change, we have created a student body at Occidental College that will do what the administration does not,” Ward said.
Ward emphasized that the activism work students partake in is meaningful and takes legitimate skills that can be applied to a career fighting for social justice.
“And I want you to know that we are here, we do this and you can come here and do this too if that’s what you want to do,” Ward said.
Ward’s words were met by cheers from the group of student activists and applause from the admitted students and their families. After Ward spoke, the student activists in the stands dispersed to talk with admitted students and answer their questions about Occidental and November’s occupation.
Some admitted students viewed the presence of the student activists positively. Admitted student Zach West said the show of student activism increased the likelihood he will choose Occidental.
“I liked the speech, I liked how there was a lot of support for it,” West said.
Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Vince Cuseo welcomed the intervention by student activists, saying it gives admitted students a broader idea of the reality of the Occidental experience. In Cuseo’s 17 years at Occidental, student activists have organized protests about race and diversity at multiple admitted students days, although none with as many participants or the same level of organization as Friday’s, he said.
“[Admitted students] don’t have to necessarily completely embrace it yet, but they have to recognize that this is part of the fabric of Occidental,” Cuseo said. “And so I think it’s important for them to experience it while they’re at an event called ‘Experience Oxy.’”
But Karim Sharif (sophomore), a participant in the event, criticized the administration’s response as reactionary.
“We were only reached out to, and we continue to only ever be reached out to, when we’re right there in [the administration’s] faces,” Karim said. “When we’re in the middle of an action, when we’re about to give speeches and enter admitted students day, we’re being greeted with different members of the administration suddenly coming up in hushed tones and trying to reason something out.”
Sharif stressed that he and other participants in the movement were only interested in what was best for everyone in the community, not the demise of the institution — yet the administration nevertheless attempted to deal with them secretly.
Despite their frustration with the administration’s attitude toward the movement, Haynes-Venerable and Sharif were pleased with the outcome of the event.
“I’ve talked to some students who said after they were leaving, they were getting admitted students and their families coming up to them and saying, ‘You’ve made me want to come,’” Haynes-Venerable said. “And I think that was the purpose. And so if we got one student to say, ‘I want to come because of this,’ then I think it was a job well done.’”
Waruingi also thought the event went well, although he expressed disappointment over the lack of participation from fellow students, particularly those non-organizers who support the movement more broadly.
“It just seems strange to me that people would refuse to stand by an organization fighting for their liberation, for equity, because they disagree with the way it’s being handled, especially when it’s being handled by students,” Waruingi said.
Moving forward, Sharif and Haynes-Venerable hope to grow the movement to be more inclusive. They also emphasized the need to affect institutional change that all students can benefit from, even after the current organizers and supporters have graduated.
“It’s not about us,” Sharif said.
*Ward is a Weekly staff member.