Commemorating OBSA’s and CLSA’s 50-year legacies

A one-story tan house stands amid bushes and trees. A sign outside reads "OBSA House."
The Office of Black Student Affairs, pictured above, and Chicano Latino Student Affairs are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year. (Alyssa Leong • The Student Life)

The Office of Black Student Affairs and Chicano Latino Student Affairs, both 7C groups, are acknowledging their storied pasts as they celebrate their shared 50th anniversaries this fall.

Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, both organizations have hosted an array of events to commemorate the occasion, from lectures to workshops to a joint block party.

Office of Black Student Affairs

Lydia Middleton, dean and director of OBSA, recounted the organizations’ founding with the galvanizing events of February 1969, during which Pomona College and Scripps College were bombed, injuring one Pomona staff member

The blame for these acts of violence were wrongly linked to members of the Black Student Union, according to Middleton, though no one ever took blame or was arrested for the bombings. 

At the time, black students at the 5Cs were involved in serious negotiations with Claremont Colleges presidents to establish an ethnic studies and cultural center, Middleton said. They had 49 meetings in total.

But after the bombings, black students received threatening calls and were harassed by white students, according to TSL archives. But no one was physically assaulted. 

To remain safe, 65 black students had to temporarily be housed off campus, according to Middleton and TSL archives.

Other communities of color empathized with black students’ struggles amidst the accusations and controversy with curriculum, Middleton said. Latinx and white allies collectively supported black students in a gathering at the McAlister Center, initiating coalition-building between communities of color at the 5Cs. 

Though no autonomous Black Studies Center was opened in response to the students’ demands, a Human Resources Institute was established at the Claremont University Center in 1969, which included a Black Studies Center and a Mexican-American Studies Center, according to the Pomona College website.

Since then, both centers have developed into what they are now — OBSA and CLSA — and continue to support students.

Middleton hopes OBSA can act as a resource where students can “think about what they are asking for, find out if they are willing to stay involved in trying to make change and [figure out] what that looks like for them.”

Naomi Amuzie PO ’22, a member of OBSA, reflected on the significance of the two organizations’ milestone 50th anniversary.

“When I see 50th, I see persistence and diligence in our history: the advocacy work in the face of bigotry, microaggressions,” she said via message. “I see beauty and power in the existence of every single black body that has stepped foot on this campus.” 

Amuzie emphasized the importance of continuing to enrich the experience and well-being of black students on campus.

“Whether it’s in the next few months or weeks or the next 50 years, … it’s really important that people understand that blackness is not a monolith and that we are not gate keepers,” Middleton said. “We don’t tell people how to be or act or what their experiences have to be in order to be black … [identity is] something we help students find on their own with our support.”

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Chicano Latino Student Affairs

The Mexican-American Studies Center, now CLSA, was created in conjunction with OBSA to recognize students of color on campus.

Xochitl Casillas, assistant dean of CLSA, said the organization helps propel students of color forward.

“Many of our alumni are doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, civic leaders,” she said. “We are proud of their accomplishments, and know that this center plays a central role in seeing them succeed.”

CLSA intern Stephanie Camey PZ ’21 said the organization has played a vital role in her college experience.

“This is the [community] where I met my closest friends who are now my second family. The staff at CLSA have supported me in so many different ways [like] providing me with internships for the summer [and] guiding me in my college career as a pre-med student,” Camey said via email. 

Casillas said that, at its core, CLSA’s vision is one of inclusivity and support.

“Our mission strives to be reflective of our diverse Latinx community; those that represent our Afro Latino, indigenous and mestizo heritage, as well as recognizing their other identities,” she said. “We want our community to know they are all valued, cared for and represented.”

Looking forward, Casillas wants to uphold the supportive values of CLSA through committed response to current and future issues affecting Chicanx and Latinx students at the 7Cs.

“In the years to come, we will continue to ensure that all Latinx students feel the sense of belonging, and that [they] are all part of our tight-knit familia/community,” Casillas said. “We will do so by continuing to evolve and respond to the ever-changing and diverse needs of our campus community.”

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