NLG-LA Support for Oxy Student Occupation for Racial Justice

By Victor Narro

 

Last November, hundreds of Occidental College students flooded into the main administration building

during a demonstration over allegations of racism and inequality on campus. After several days

of protesting Occidental College's handling of diversity issues, students occupied the building.

President Jonathan Veitch has consistently made clear his unwillingness and inability to adhere

to Occidental’s mission and commitment to diversity and equity. His most recent statement

contained comments which ignored the structures of oppression within this institution and clearly

shows his reluctance to act on the behalf of marginalized students at Occidental. In preparation

for the protest, the students discussed their shared concerns and wrote a list of 15 demands that

they presented at the demonstration. These demands were intended to make Occidental College a

safer place for marginalized students. Among these demands was the removal of Jonathan

Veitch from his position as president if the administration did not move forward with any

progress, as well as the creation of a Black Studies major, a demand that was presented by the

Black Student Caucus in 1968 and has since been unfulfilled.

Students demonstrated by arranging themselves in concentric circles and leading a teach-in.

White students were asked to compose the outermost circle, while Black students formed the

innermost circle, with other students of color in between. The Students shared traumatic stories

that left many in tears and emotionally exhausted. Black students explained that they constantly

have to relive these psychologically damaging stories in order to get white peers to understand

that they are struggling to sustain themselves at an institution that caters to white students, who

comprise two-thirds of the student population.

The actions come after weeks of student protests throughout the nation, including at the

University of Missouri, where the president and chancellor resigned, and Ithaca College in

upstate New York and Yale University. The dean of students at Claremont McKenna College

stepped down after a campus protest and hunger strikes by two students over her email to a

Latina student saying she would work to serve those who "don't fit our CMC mold."

Victor Narro of the Executive Board works closely with Thalia Gonzalez, who teaches a class on

community lawyering at Occidental College. Thalia was one of the core faculty that supported

the student activists. She also reached out to other NLG Board members-- Ken Montenegro, Erin

Darling and Colleen Flynn. The NLG-LA Chapter provided legal observing support and Know-

Your-Rights information to the students. In addition, Thalia reached out to Victor to offer

meditation techniques, talking stick circles and other forms of self-care activities for the student

leaders.

The students ended the occupation after a few of the demands were met by the administration.

They agreed to continue the demonstrations next Spring and push for the unmet demands.

 

Photo Credit: Anna Palmer, Cruz Riley, and Cesar Martinez

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