The wave of diversity protests that started at the University of Missouri and reached Claremont McKenna College, where top administrators were forced out of their offices, has now reached President Obama's alma mater, Occidental College in Eagle Rock.
Students are staging a sit-in at the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center, and they plan to be there until at least Friday. The occupation is being organized by the Black Student Alliance.
“We're aligning ourselves with the national movement,” said student protester Olani Ewunnet.
Claremont McKenna dean of students Mary Spellman stepped down last week after protesters decried her response to demands that the school do a better job of dealing with minorities who feel marginalized on campus. She said in an email that the institution must do a better job of dealing with students who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”
Earlier in the week, the president of the University of Missouri system, Timothy M. Wolfe, resigned following protests and complaints over the Columbia campus' response to racial epithets aimed at the student body president. Players on the school's football team threatened to stay off the field unless Wolfe stepped down.
Students at Occidental began their occupation Monday afternoon. Among other things, they're demanding that college president Jonathan Veitch resign.
Organizers said in a statement that “black students and other students of color face … various forms of violence — physical, emotional and discursive — … every day at the hands of this institution.”
“Marginalization of students of color, especially black students, is a systemic issue,” said sophomore Zawadia LeFang.
Students' demands include the creation of a black studies major, hiring more minority faculty members, more funding for minority student groups and diversity training for faculty and students.
“The deadline is this Friday,” Ewunnet told us. “We have 14 demands. If that does not happen we are not negotiating in any way, and we'll occupy until his [Veitch's] resignation.”
She says about 400 students were participating in the sit-in overnight. They dined on delivery pizza and kept warm with sleeping bags brought to them by other students, Ewunnet said.
“We're occupying all the hallways,” she said. “The staff is just walking over students.”
The school has been accommodating so far.
“We're currently reviewing the list of demands,” said Jim Tranquada, Occidental's director of communications. “We want to publicly applaud the spirit and effort of these students because the issues that they're dealing with are critically important ones. We always encourage students to speak out, and we welcome the opportunity to dialogue with them.”
That's awful nice, isn't it?
“That's pretty much the Oxy way,” Tranquada said. “These are our students.”