On Monday, March 19, Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate held their weekly meeting. Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Rhonda Brown was on the agenda to discuss Senate’s relationship with the Office of Equity and Inclusion regarding cultural graduation. During this conversation, I began to raise issues that seniors have brought up regarding stole designs for Asian-Pacific Islander (API) graduation that have been perceived as racist, essentializing Asian identities. When I said that I had something to say, Brown replied in a dismissive tone, “I’m sure you do.”
I went on to bring up concerns that seniors have raised regarding cultural graduations. Brown told me to stop pretending that this is more than a personal issue between herself and me. This dismisses the real issues surrounding cultural graduation that both seniors and lower division students have expressed regarding this year’s ceremonies. Additionally, It is not appropriate for any employee of the college, much less the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, to come into an open Senate meeting and verbally attack a student in this way.
This piece does not reflect the opinion of ASOC Senate as a whole. It is speaking to personal experiences I have had as (1) a marginalized student on campus, (2) a former programming assistant with the Intercultural Community Center prior to Fall 2016, (3) a Senior Representative to ASOC Senate and (4) as a concerned member of the campus community dedicated to furthering diversity and equity on campus.
As Senior Class Senator, it is my job to listen to my constituency. When I have received multiple complaints and correspondence that have neither been appropriately nor adequately responded to regarding various programs and initiatives that the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer supervises, I have the right to voice those concerns without facing retaliation.
The administration has historically isolated and neglected marginalized students on campus. The CDO has ignored critical feedback regarding the Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI) and has refused to accept feedback from sophomores, juniors and seniors who did not specifically participate in MSI 2017. After ASOC Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) and Senate collected student and faculty testimony from previous years and compiled an in-depth report about needed changes to the program, the CDO refused to implement or commit to integrating student feedback into future planning of MSI. This only continues the dangerous pattern of neglecting student voices in programs aimed at supporting and improving marginalized students’ experiences at Occidental College.
More recently, seniors and lower division students have voiced concerns regarding problematic cultural graduation stole designs. These designs both essentialize and erase marginalized ethnic and racial identities, such as API, Black and Latinx cultures. Considering that cultural graduations utilize $7,000 from student body fees, students of all years deserve to have a voice in determining what their money is used to purchase. However, the Chief Diversity Officer has repeatedly dismissed students who have brought their concerns directly to their attention.
For a single administrator to take control of the Division of Intercultural Affairs under the guise of “better supporting and serving students” yet refusing to take tangible action to improve the lived experiences of these students is disturbing. Under her leadership, Intercultural Affairs has refused to support student-led programming aimed at fostering diversity and equity on campus — like POC formal, the Bridging Access and Capital (BAC) Program and the Asterisk Trans Conference, just to name a few. This comes with the termination of the 1G program (2015–16) — which supported first-generation students — as well as a lack of funding to Harambee and the denial of access to queer students attempting to utilize the Center for Gender Equity (CGE) as a safe space for queer students.
The severe lack of resources surrounding marginalized students contradicts both the college’s mission of diversity and equity, as well as the job description of the Chief Diversity Officer. Therefore, I am making an open call for the Chief Diversity Officer to resign from her position effective immediately.
This has gone on for far too long, and marginalized students deserve better.