LASPA Director Search Renewed, Students Demand Transparency

Silence hung in the air as about 20 Scripps College students, their mouths covered with blue masking tape to represent being silenced, made their way to the Revelle House. Gathered around the front door, the students’ stillness was only broken when Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga stepped outside to address the protest.

The protest, which took place at noon on Feb. 17, was partially in response to Bettison-Varga’s Feb. 12 email announcement that the school would restart the search for the founding director of Scripps’ LASPA Center for Leadership, which is named after donors Eileen Laspa SC ’67 and Jude Laspa HM ’65.

A search committee comprising students, professors, and alumnae selected social justice activist Margaret “Margo” Okazawa-Rey as its first choice for director of the center, which will focus on building leadership skills among Scripps students. The committee chose Okazawa-Rey over scholar and activist Laura Pulido, who dropped out of the search over winter break, and social justice activist Tamara Smiley Hamilton SC ’74. In her email, however, Bettison-Varga wrote that she decided not to offer Okazawa-Rey the position, and would instead form a new search committee to restart the search.

The protest on Feb. 17 was organized by the Scripps Coalition Against More (SCAM), a student coalition founded Feb. 16, a few days after Bettison-Varga made her decision not to choose Okazawa-Rey public.

For members of SCAM, including Pamela Ng SC ’16, the protest was a chance to express their frustration with the fact that Okazawa-Rey had not been chosen, and with what they saw as a lack of consideration for student input by the administration.

According to Ng, a member of the Asian-American Student Union and a participant in the Feb. 17 protest, dismissing Okazawa-Rey without the approval of the committee disregarded community input and violated what she called the democratic selection process.

“Margo Okazawa-Rey is a half-black, half-Asian woman,” Ng said. “She’s reaching out to a lot of different communities that are marginalized and aren’t heard enough. So when you dismiss that, it’s kind of like dismissing this whole set of values.”

Bettison-Varga defended her choice to restart the campaign as an attempt to better focus the mission of the LASPA Center.

“Through the search process … we learned that we need to clearly and precisely define the expected programming that the Center will execute,” Bettison-Varga wrote in an email to TSL. “Without that definition in place, the candidates and I were left with more questions than answers about how to move forward.”

Bettison-Varga also stressed that the new program director will work with a steering committee and advisory board to run the center.

The decision to restart the search has also prompted students to express concern over the goals of Scripps’ “We Want More” fundraising campaign. Over the past few months, students have criticized the LASPA Center, a focal point of the fundraising campaign, saying that it lacks a clear purpose and may only have a superficial impact on the student body.

Many have also objected to what they call the classist undertones of the campaign’s slogan. 

Victoria Wong SC ’14, who helped organize the Feb. 17 protest, wrote in an email to TSL about why the campaign has been so controversial among Scripps students.

“The contradictions in how this campaign has played out in practice versus in rhetoric (‘more justice,’ ‘more truth’) is stark,” Wong wrote. “We sought to elevate those contradictions [through the protest] and force the administration to recognize that they need to stand behind and DO justice, not just throw the term around for profit and publicity.”

The decision not to choose Okazawa-Rey also highlighted a divide between students who believe that the LASPA Center should cater toward social justice and students who believe that the center should focus on business leadership.

“As far as the final decision goes, I trust LBV’s [Lori Bettison-Varga’s] choice,” Leah Soffer SC ’14 said. “As someone who plans to work for profit, I don’t feel Margo was the right choice, as she doesn’t have those links to the corporate community. It’s not that social justice isn’t important, but we need someone who can merge the two.”

Aileen Le SC ’14 also agreed with Bettison-Varga’s decision to restart the campaign.

“I’m interested in business, but I find the lack of support for business here a little worrisome,” Le said. “People have told me that I should have gone to CMC [Claremont McKenna College] if I wanted to go into business. I want to be successful in the corporate world, but I also want to be a Scripps woman, and I think another candidate could help bridge that gap.”

The Scripps Associated Students (SAS) held a Be Heard forum Feb. 19 at Scripps’ Student Union, where students discussed the “We Want More” campaign and the decisions made regarding the LASPA Center.

“The turnout for the forum was incredible, and both sides of the argument were heard and respected,” SAS Vice President Alexandra Frumkin SC ’15 said. “I think Scripps is in a division of its own identity on what it wants to be, but we’re not fighting against each other; we’re fighting for something, and it’s transparency from the administration.”

The discussion will be continued at the Student Union on Feb. 26.

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