Author: Emily Gao
In choosing a college, I sought a school whose students did not shy away from discomfort. I wanted a school that would act upon the notion that the personal is political. I wanted to be immersed in activism. I do not mean a school that has a population with more than three Native American students or where all the Facebook profile pictures have rainbow filters — I mean a place that encourages me to think about power, privilege and inequity. Occidental fit the bill, or at least I thought it did. Yet sadly there seems to be more talk than action at the college, as exemplified by the elimination of the psychology department’s Intergroup Dialogue Program (IDP).
Last year, IDP was postponed indefinitely. I am in my first semester at Occidental, and its absence already aggravates me. IDP was one of the only courses with structured guidance that taught students how to cultivate conversations regarding social identity.
According to Latino/Latina Studies Professor Jacyln Rodriguez, who was in charge of Occidental’s IDP, the course was “more than conversation; [it was] a knowledge base.” The program centered on the history of identity and power through the lens of social psychology. It was unique in that it included semi-structured discussions designed to encourage authentic conversations about dividing issues.
The benefits of the course were measurable. In a study conducted by Nina Reynoso (senior), confidence and cognitive involvement levels of both white people and people of color went up after taking the course.
If Occidental truly values diversity, then logically, the college would maintain IDP. Without it, the liberalism Occidental claims to foster is merely a guise. Occidental owes its students a place where they can learn from people with different perspectives and backgrounds. It is the only way we develop empathy for one another, and it is the only way we can sustain a campus culture that understands diversity. And the diversity I speak of embodies more than just melanin: it’s about embracing all types of identities, be they related to age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, mental and/or physical abilities, race or ethnicity. IDP provided the tools for students to do that, even if it made them uncomfortable in the process.
When asked why the program is no longer around, Professor Rodriguez said that there was a general lack of support from the community and that she was physically and emotionally tired of continuously attempting to justify the value of the program. Due to the heavy anti-IDP sentiment, Professor Rodriguez was left with few options to continue the program.
Psychology Department Chair Brian Kim said that the program was cut mainly because of logistical and staffing reasons.
“Professor Rodriguez is the only social psychologist on campus,” Kim said. “We don’t have two of them. There’s no successor.”
Professor Kenjus Watson of the psychology department would be the assumed successor because he helped run the program, but he is currently an adjunct professor.
Given the importance of IDP, the college should take immediate action to solve the staffing issue. To start, it could hire an additional tenure-track social psychology professor to shoulder the responsibility of leading IDP. It is unacceptable that Occidental does not have sufficient tenured faculty who could take on the program.
Without IDP, I fear Occidental will fail to encourage intentional conversations about diversity and equity to take place on campus. Fewer students will be exposed to the tools necessary to productively engage in dialogue, or more broadly, in activist work. The school year is only a month old and I am already troubled by the lack of social accountability Occidental has displayed by the suspension of IDP.
The fact that IDP, a decade-old program invested in equity and justice, had to fight to be acknowledged and valued baffles me. While I still plan to take on inequities and discuss such taboo topics, I know I would be more prepared to do so if our school had IDP or something similar to it.
IDP was a program that encouraged students to engage with controversial issues, appreciate different identities, understand inequities in our community, and build alliances with our peers. Occidental will suffer without it.
Emily Gao is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at [email protected]
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