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Occidental College Students Occupy Building Until President Resigns

Rasha Ali |
November 18, 2015 | 6:13 p.m. PST

Students occupying the Arthur G. Coons building (Rasha Ali / Neon Tommy)
Students occupying the Arthur G. Coons building (Rasha Ali / Neon Tommy)

The banner bearing the bold statement hung over the staircase railing of the Arthur G. Coons administrative building, which now also serves as the home of some Occidental College students:

“Academia is where we study oppression not perpetuate it.” 

Students have been occupying the building since Monday and will continue to do so until their demands, that include the resignation of Jonathan Veitch, the college president, have been met. 

“Our school prides itself for its diversity and equity and so a lot of students did come here because of that commitment that the school has stated, and so we’re very interested in keeping the school accountable,” said Mika Cribbs, Vice President of the Black Student Alliance at Occidental. 

Mattresses, blankets and pillows were against every wall of the building. Students, mostly in all black and some in pajamas, made themselves as comfortable as they could be during a sit-in protest. Cases of water and food were readily available to any of the occupants. Hip hop music played through portable speakers as students lined the hallways on the computers catching up on homework. At one point, there were about 400 hundred students occupying the building, said Cribbs.

SEE MORE: USC Student Body President Fires Back In The Face Of Racist Comments

The student body, led by the Black Student Alliance along with the Coalition at Occidental for Diversity and Equity, have come together as Oxy United and issued a list with 14 demands. The group is calling for a 100 percent increase in tenured faculty of color over the next five years. 

According to the Coalition at Occidental for Diversity and Equity’s website, as of Spring 2013, 29 percent of faculty were tenured and tenure track faculty of color. College Factual states that in 2014 there were 139 tenured and tenure track faculty in total. 

“It’s a very white department as are many at Oxy and I really don’t feel like I get that support from professors a lot of the times when we discuss things about social justice and stuff like that in class everyone kind of just turns around because often times I’m one of few people of color in my classes,” said Jesse Wong, a senior at Occidental, describing his experience in the Economics department. 

In light of the demonstrations, Wong reached out to his professors requesting that they consider moving classes to the administrative building where the sit-in is taking place. He said most told him to remember that he is a student first.

“I’m a black person first, I’m an Asian person first, so student comes second after that,” he said in response to professors’ refusal to hold their classes in at the sit-in. 

Table set up for food for protestors (Rasha Ali / Neon Tommy)
Table set up for food for protestors (Rasha Ali / Neon Tommy)

A few professors have been receptive and accommodated the students taking part in the protests by moving classes to the building so students would not have to leave the sit-in. 

Wong’s narrative is not isolated. Forbes states that African-Americans make up 4.42 percent  of the student population at Occidental while Whites make up most of the student body. Unless it’s a historically black university, these numbers are pretty consistent with colleges across the nation.

SEE MORE: Fight On For Mizzou: USC Stands In Solidarity

“There’s definitely been courses where I have been one of few students of color,” said Cribbs. “I guess I just don’t feel as safe to speak up in class especially if the professor is a white professor and some of the subjects where I feel like I am the subject that’s being taught so it kind of makes me feel like I’m the voice of my people.” 

Chance Ward, a sophomore at Occidental, said, “We should not have to struggle this hard. This takes us away from our studies this takes us away from our work, this puts our academics or jobs at risk and when you have to put all of that on the line just to be heard, you will understand why it’s a big deal.”

President Veitch publically stated at a student rally “I do not cling to this job. I am happy to resign.” In spite of his statement, when asked if it would be likely that the president would resign, Marty Sharkey, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Occidental, said that Veitch is “committed to leading the college through this and moving the college forward.” 

Following recent waves of protests across the nation’s college campuses, the demands of the student body at Occidental are in tune with the outcries from underrepresented communities to be heard. 

Reach Contributor Rasha Ali here




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