Dear Occidental College Administration,
Right after the election, you asked us to join you in the quad. To come together as a community. I decided to go. I couldn’t pass up the symbolism of the one-year anniversary of the nationwide campus walkout, nor could I let myself shy away from speaking my truth. In the email it was said that “Here at Oxy, we have the opportunity to model the kind of interaction we would like to see elsewhere — caring for ourselves and each other, making fact- and data-based arguments, and engaging in debate informed by mutual respect and open minds. And as we wrestle with the big issues raised by the election, we should remember that even small acts of kindness and consideration to each other can make a needed difference.”
To that I would sincerely like to say, fuck you. Your attempt at neutrality is almost laughable because you have made your position loud and clear on a number of occasions. You stay silent until it suits you. You hide behind apathetic emails, like when “build the wall” and “fuck women” were scrawled in chalk on campus grounds. When students were being threatened and harassed online after the 9/11 memorial incident, with comments that spoke of hanging students in the quad, you again hid behind a screen. My anger around this election did not start and will not end with Trump winning. I personally begged and pleaded with Interim Dean Erica O’Neal Howard to simply acknowledge the pain and fear students felt reading through those comment feeds. To just name it. To say that it was real and that it would not be tolerated.
A couple months ago we all watched as you hunted down and seemed to criminalize students who removed American flags in the quad on 9/11. We saw you scramble to make sure the world, the entire campus and your donors knew how much the Occidental community was disgusted by the events and was working vigilantly to rectify the injustices. Yet, you did not find it necessary to notify the entire campus when gender-neutral bathroom signs were vandalized, ripped down and replaced with the phrase “This is a men’s room.” Do you see why I don’t trust you? Why students of color, queer and trans students, survivors, mixed, lower-class, disabled and marginalized students do not feel comfortable speaking with you?
You only move when you are pushed, only show compassion in instances of crisis. And even when you try, you fail to do the necessary work to ensure you are protecting those you claim to support. So when Interim Dean Kerry Thompson sat in the quad and threw platitudes and false promises at us last Wednesday, I was unimpressed and cautious. I have learned to keep my guard up, to continue building walls between myself and an administration that has drained me of my energy and passion more times than I can count. When Chief Diversity Officer Rhonda Brown said she was “here,” I could only think about her dedication to ribbons and respectability rather than the students and faculty that put their souls into creating that position. When students spoke of the future and their fears of what is to come, I had to remind you of the past. Because I can do nothing with promises. You promised to hold yourselves accountable to the demands. Yet, once again it seems that if we wish to see progress being made, which I am sure won’t happen, students will have to do the work to pull it out of you. So no, Marty Sharkey, we are not in a better position today than we were a year ago.
I’d say we are worse, more fractured, more angry, more isolated and diminished. And all of you still have not seemed to figure out how to listen, how to push yourselves without the flame of students burning at your heels.
You do not learn from your mistakes. You do not lead by example. You hold the students of this college to a higher standard than that to which you hold yourselves. So, stay neutral. Stay on the side of the oppressor. Remain immovable. Continue to do what you do but do not expect me to be civil or calm or concerned with your feelings. Do not expect me to forget your transgressions in order to build a community to which for the last few years I have been shown I do not belong. You are inadequate, you have always been inadequate and I know you will continue to be inadequate because you were never built for me. You were never built to move or change for me. And I have decided to no longer put my body, my energy or my mind into moving the immovable.
Instead, I will channel myself into conceptualizing and constructing an equitable world that lifts up the marginalized, a healthy world where we nurture and love the earth, and a flexible world that embraces transformation.
An Exhausted Occidental Senior,
Raihana Jacqueline Haynes-Venerable is a senior Critical Theory Social Justice major and Interdisciplinary Writing minor. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.