The consecutive departures of Dr. Jonathan Grady, former assistant dean of the Intercultural Affairs (ICA) department, and Joel Gutierrez, former assistant director of the ICA over the summer, left many in the campus community anxious about the future of Occidental’s ICA programs. Their departures are the latest in a campus-wide trend of administrative turnover.
Dr. Grady left his position July 29. Three days later, Acting Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard sent a campus-wide email notifying the school of another departure. Joel Gutierrez, assistant director of Intercultural Affairs, had opted to leave Occidental to serve as director of Chicano Latino student services at Loyola Marymount University.
The President of the College made the decision to change the reporting line of the ICA to the Chief Diversity Officer. This decision was made in consultation with the Dean of the College, the Interim Dean of Students and Chief Diversity Officer, Rhonda Brown.
The ICA is now in the process of hiring an administrative coordinator who will support the programming assistants in the the Intercultural Community Center (ICC) and Center for Gender Equity (CGE). Current programming Assistants are involved in the hiring process. The department plans to have the position filled by the end of October, when it will begin to discuss the needs of the ICA with the hope of making one additional hire early in the spring term.
Thus far, the ICA has assumed its usual responsibilities, including overseeing the ICC and the CGE. Brown has hired a part-time administrator to provide support for the CGE to ensure that it can function and serve students despite the ICC’s current lack of staffing. Whether or not the ICA will reimplement specific programs such as the Veteran Resource Program or the First Generation College Student Program remains unclear.
Grady and Gutierrez had previously made commitments to various co-curricular programming, training and research projects. Last year, Grady spearheaded the Veteran Resource Program, creating a supportive network of on-campus resources for veterans to help with career planning and academic success. Gutierrez expanded the workshops and discussions available to first-generation students, addressing their specific needs in the transition to college life.
Last year, Grady, Gutierrez and ICA programming assistants introduced the Men of Color Program: Liberation through Counternarratives. The program took an anti-deficit approach to promoting self-empowerment among men of color, helping them navigate a college environment while learning more about their complex, intersectional identities.
When administrators working within the framework of social justice, multiculturalism and gender equity reflect a relatively high turnover rate, students question the durability of ICA projects. The ICA experienced similar consecutive departures prior to those of Grady and Gutierrez. Both Paula Crisostomo, former assistant dean of the ICA, and Dominic Alletto, former assistant director of the ICA, left the ICA summer 2014; Sean Ford, former program coordinator for the ICA, departed later the same academic year.
“Certainly, in a struggling department such as the ICA, which has already had a long-standing history of trying to get some validity and respect on campus, you can’t get any kind of memory developed within the structures that exist because within two years the person is gone,” Paul* (sophomore), a programming assistant for the ICA, said.
Paul is currently working to realize Grady and Gutierrez’s programming visions, hoping to diversify the population that uses its resources, career development tools and supportive structures on campus. He envisions the ICA building honest, enduring connections with marginalized students.
“People can’t hold the [ICA] accountable for anything because people don’t necessarily even know what has happened in the past two years,” Paul said.
The challenge of building credibility as a department continuously in flux has many wondering why administrators leave the ICA so rapidly in the first place.
Paul saw the frequent departures as a sign of administrators feeling disrespected or that their work around issues of diversity was not valued. He said the ICA directors were frustrated, thus, when one administrator left, the other readily followed his lead.
“People left because of one simple fact: they were not valued for the work and the contributions that they provided to the campus,” Ricardo Parada (junior), a two-year programming assistant for the ICA, said. “I witnessed the ways in which stress over the indecisiveness of the Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI) really affected the way that we were able to plan the program.”
Parada reported observing disrespect from high-level administrators toward Grady and Gutierrez. For example, that the ICA’s directors were pressed to attend particular events that conflicted with their political and personal beliefs. He also said that unless students mobilize to pressure higher-level administration into addressing various growing racial, class, gender and religious tensions within the campus community, the ICA will continue to be neglected.
Parada additionally pointed to the consolidation of positions as a key issue. When he entered the ICA, there were three full-time staff members and a larger student workforce. During his time, these positions were combined into one, funding was decreased and student staff positions were cut.
“For many of the interim positions — those who are overseeing departments in light of recent vacancy — it makes it more difficult for them to do the best that they can when they wear ‘multiple hats’ or have too much on their plate to dedicate enough time needed to get the job done,” Parada said.