Pitzer College Celebrates 50th Anniversary With Multimedia Exhibit, Focusing on Work of Arthur Dubinsky

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of Pitzer College, and between alumni receptions, fundraisers, and impromptu parties offering free food on the mounds, the college has had plenty of opportunities to reflect on its identity in middle age. The exhibition “Arthur Dubinsky: The Life and Times of Pitzer College” acquaints the college with its former self, one that grew from its humble beginnings with a graduating class of three women into a dynamic college of approximately 1,000 students. 

The multimedia exhibition, which is on display in the Founders’ Room at Pitzer’s McConnell Center, uses photos and audio recordings to document college life between 1964 and 1978. It is divided into visibly distinct, uniquely constructed sections — depicting construction, campus life and dorm room culture, commencement and special events, and governance — that provide a glimpse into the college’s early atmosphere. Audio recordings play from headphones connected to iPods set between photos. Large window-cling photographs populate the smaller glass-enclosed space adjacent to the Founders’ Room.  

Photos include images of Pitzer’s hexagonal academic quad, students and faculty actively engaging with one another in various governance meetings, a professor holding up Vietnam War protest bumper stickers, decorated dorm room doors, and students at a party. Audio recordings capture Pitzer community members of the era discussing topics ranging from daily college life to political and social issues.

Material for the exhibit was gathered from the vast Pitzer archives. Archivist Stacy Elliott worked closely with students and Director of Campus Galleries, Ciara Ennis, and her assistant, Cheukwa Jones. Elliott sifted through thousands of negatives from the archives and chose those she felt were the best representations, aesthetically and historically, of early Pitzer, while audio recordings were selected by a group of 2013 graduates. Ennis reviewed the collected photos and recordings and chose the final pieces. Angelica Perez, a member of the Pitzer College Art Galleries staff, assembled the exhibit. 

Although the archives maintain a wealth of his work, little is known of Dubinsky himself. According to Jones and Elliot, Dubinsky was a son of Russian immigrants who began his career photographing farm workers and eventually found himself in New York in 1954 taking pictures of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. He ended up in Claremont in time to capture Pitzer from its beginning up until his death in 1985. It is unclear why he ended up in Claremont, and there is scant record of him — no contract, no job description — nothing substantial to speak of, save his numerous insightful photographs. 

“As a young man he was in New York; he was in a really interesting scene; he had real ambitions, but probably what happened to him is, he got married and then they started a family, [and needed] a steady income,” Elliot said.   

Elliott said she feels that finding Dubinsky was a key move for Pitzer, especially considering his “sensibility for candid moments,” which she said was due to his background in documentary street photography. 

Dubinsky’s work at Pitzer is unparalleled. According to Elliot, he did not have specific assignments, but was given seemingly free reign.

For Garret Kaplan PZ ’15, Dubinsky’s work represents a unique image of student-faculty collaboration integral to the Pitzer community. 

“You see the student autonomy where the students and faculty are blending together,” Kaplan said. “When I visited Pitzer before getting accepted here, I had a student interview me and tell me about how if students want to change something, they could. It was pretty cool to hear the audio of the students and faculty talking together.” 

For Ryan Kranz PZ ’14, the exhibition realizes a departure from, rather than continuance of, the college’s more eclectic founding principles. Kranz noted the evolution of Dubinsky’s Pitzer into the more conventional Pitzer of today.

“People say that we’re starting to grow away from some of Pitzer’s original beliefs,” he said.

However, Kranz attested to the endurance of the unconventional student spirit, despite changes in the administrative philosophy. 

“I still think that our students are pretty unconventional,” he added.

Darby Barton PZ ’14 similarly observed the tensions between Dubinsky’s images of Pitzer and the college as it stands and operates today. 

“I think it’s really important that Pitzer is reinvestigating its roots and its history and its foundations as a college,” she said.

The governance section shows students and faculty at various meetings, mainly from the earliest days of the college. 

The images, Barton said, show a Pitzer where students had more real power.

“Maybe it’s just because I’m not involved with student government and college governance, but it seems like it was a lot more student-run than I imagine it to be now,” she said.  

There will be a panel discussion for the exhibit held May 3 that will explore changes in Pitzer’s spaces and the psychological effects on people at the college. Stuart McConnell, a Pitzer history professor, will moderate. 

McConnell said he feels that the unusual way that faculty share spaces has aided him in his work as a historian. Specifically, he noted how the integration of faculty offices, rather than organizing by department, encourages communication among faculty. 

“You notice at Pitzer, again, as opposed to most of the other schools in town, that because we don’t have departments, everybody’s office is all mixed up,” he said. “Next door I have a linguist. Over here I have somebody in community studies. I have a sociologist there, a political scientist over here, another political scientist there … when everybody’s office is all mixed up like that, it encourages people to talk cross-disciplinarily. I’ve learned a lot from anthropologists and sociologists and political scientists here because I see them every day.”

McConnell echoed students’ sentiments, noting that the college has lost some of the integration characteristic of earlier years.  

“Until [Scott Hall] was redesigned last year, the dean of faculty’s office was tossed in right with the rest of them, over here in Fletcher,” he said. “Until Broad Center was built in the ’90s, the president’s office was tossed in. We’ve moved most of the student residences out of sight, off on the far edge of campus. The psychology field group basically has its own building. Media studies is on its way to the same thing. You’re seeing a residential and departmental differentiation and specialization that was less true in the earlier days of the college.”

The move away from integrated spaces has affected student-faculty interactions, McConnell said.

In McConnell’s view, Pitzer has become more conventional in general, and that shift is reflected in the reconfiguration of campus spaces. However, he said, he does not know if one has necessarily caused the other.

It’s a “sort of chicken-egg thing,” he said. “Does the changing configuration of space cause people to do things differently, or is it the fact that they’re already doing things differently, and therefore they demand changing configurations of space?” 

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