Pitzer Students Demand Support for Marginalized Students

Sean Ogami • The Student Life

Pitzer College students, faculty and community members sat down on Tuesday, Dec. 1 in the Founders Room at Pitzer's McConnell Center to talk about the recent events at Claremont McKenna College that have drawn attention to diversity and inclusivity at the Claremont Colleges. Administrators such as interim President Thomas Poon, interim Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle, and Dean of Students Moya Carter were also in attendance in this town hall meeting organized by the Pitzer Student Senate.

Two documents were distributed at the beginning of the meeting: a list of demands addressed to Pitzer's president, trustees, faculty executive committee and alumni that was signed by the Asian Pacific American Coalition, Latinx Student Union, Black Student Union and First Generation Mentor Program, and a list of action items addressed to students, faculty and staff in general. Both called for specific and general changes to Pitzer as an institution and in terms of campus culture.

The main demands included better support for students of color and other marginalized identities and called for the college to place greater pressure upon students and faculty, especially those who are white, to educate themselves and hold themselves accountable for the oppression they may perpetuate.

The documents also called for the college to release a statement of solidarity with CMCers of Color, hire an outside Title IX coordinator, improve accountability for campus safety in matters of racial discrimination and profiling, improve education on microaggressions and diversity for incoming students, establish funding for student affinity groups on campus, and make plans for hiring and retaining faculty of color. The documents were disseminated afterwards through Student Talk, Pitzer's student listserv.

Students at Pomona College, Scripps College and CMC have also created similar documents to demand that their administrations provide more support for students of color.

Senate Secretary Chance Kawar PZ ’17 was optimistic about the discussion and the potential for improvements within the Pitzer community.

“We're a small student body, but there's a lot of very passionate people at this school, and so I think we need to be respectful of each other, but I think we also need to take the concerns that have been raised very seriously and try to look for ways to find common ground and to implement these changes in an effective way,” Kawar said.

One step toward improved diversity on campus that was discussed at the meeting was diversifying Student Senate, which Kawar agreed was a priority. While noting that the current Senate is more diverse than in previous years, Kawar said that representation is not as what it could be and hopes to recruit a greater diversity of students in terms of race, gender and ability.

Gregory Ochiagha PZ ’18, a member of Pitzer’s Black Student Union, criticized the format of the meeting. Calling the format “half-assed,” Ochiagha lamented that the people of color present at the town hall meeting needed to justify their position and that little headway on effecting necessary change was made.

“I don't think the town hall meeting was as successful as it could have been,” Ochiagha said.

Pitzer economics professor Linus Yamane agreed that truly productive discussions should be more thoughtfully designed.

“Personally, I think all of us need training,” Yamane said. “I don't think any one of us doesn't need it. But I think you need different kind of training for different kinds of people.”

Yamane pointed out the success of prior POC-only discussions at Pitzer, noting that students and faculty of color may be more comfortable sharing their experiences in the absence of white people, even white allies.

“There's a lot of preaching to the choir, concerns that not everyone shows up, and so, how long-lasting, how effective is that?” Yamane said. “Even if they're inspiring for maybe a day, a week, be thinking about things a little bit differently, but then it's easy to go back to the way you always did things.”

Yamane said that while diversity education is paramount, “you don't necessarily want everyone in the room at the same time.”

Similarly, Ochiagha suggested that to avoid stagnation, changemakers need to prioritize the concerns of those directly affected and bypass those who, in curiosity or ignorance, can prevent and stagnate productive work.

“I just generally think there is no point in explaining to a white student on campus who has no knowledge on what it feels like to walk as a person of color on campus why BSU needs to have its own annual funding without asking for it,” Ochiagha said. “These are things that just make common sense to the people who do get it.”

Ochiagha also said that the burden of educating the student population should not fall on students of color.

“It's not the responsibility of a person of color to explain all these things that they could learn themselves," he said. "If you really really are curious about what a microaggression is, there's Google."