After students led by Oxy United for Black Liberation — headed by members of the Black Student Alliance and Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity — occupied the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) last November in order to pressure the administration to fulfill their demands for racial justice on campus, part of the administration’s response was to form committees and task forces to discuss the issues. While there are processes that will and rightfully must take time — like the hiring of more faculty of color or the creation of an entire academic department — students must not excuse inaction as part of bureaucratic progress. There is value in thoroughly — and yes, slowly — carrying out changes to college policies, but it is paramount that the administration clearly communicates the timeline to the campus community for such changes and provide sufficient explanation for any delays in the process, in addition to maintaining discussion with the student body on the topic. Students, too, must continue to push for progress, even over long periods of time.
Students and other members of the Occidental community have organized movements advocating for institutional change in the past, only to have momentum and discourse die out as students graduate, never having seen the fruits of their labor.
During the the 2012–14 school years, students, faculty and allies — many through Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) — protested the administration’s handling of sexual assault cases, organizing rallies and filing a lawsuit against the school. As it did last semester, the administration responded by forming multiple task forces, committees and boards to look at the college’s handling of sexual assault and produce reports of their findings and suggestions. These measures made it appear as though the school was making progress to change its sexual misconduct policies and administrative practices. The ultimate result, at long last, was a revised and updated sexual misconduct policy finalized and released at the beginning of this semester — three years later.
Yet the revised policy came about after years of pressure from many student and faculty activists who are no longer on campus. Both the policy and the Pepper Hamilton report commissioned to inform it were delayed numerous times, often without explanation, leaving the community members in the dark about the status of the changes for which they pushed. With the activist leaders gone, much of the dialogue regarding sexual assault on the Occidental campus died out, and the revised policy received little attention and scrutiny from the student body.
The work during November’s occupation by Oxy United was admirable in the sheer amount of student support the movement garnered; it is essential that the momentum not die. Without constant pressure, it becomes easier for the administration to ignore student voices. On a perfect campus, the onus would not fall on the students to remind administrators of injustices; students should not have to sleep in brightly-lit hallways to get their points across. But given an administrative track record of drawn out, so-called progress, students must also remain vigilant to ensure this movement is not swept under the rug as students graduate, leaving the same injustice for future generations.