In November 2015, a group of concerned students of color at Pitzer College presented a Letter of Demands to the President, Board of Trustees, Faculty Executive Committee, and Alumni.
The group of concerned students of color, comprised of representatives from the Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC), Latinx Student Union (LSU), Black Student Union (BSU), and the First-Generation Mentor Program, called upon the College’s administration to address issues of marginalization as exhibited through hate crimes, lack of diversity, power structures within academia, and racial profiling on campus.
Responding to the Letter of Demands, Interim President Thomas Poon and senior leadership released the Living Document Addressing Campus Climate Diversity Issues, a working list of 33 College diversity issues with possible solutions and dedicated point people, in December 2015.
The document puts forth various efforts to meet the demands from last November, including the formation of a Working Group for Student Concerns, which met in February with over 70 students, staff and faculty participating.
In the letter, the concerned students demanded a statement of solidarity be released to the Pitzer and Claremont College communities, as well as an acknowledgment that campus protests are a legitimate means to challenge established power structures. The letter also demanded that the Pitzer President meet with marginalized students upon request, and that the College hire more staff and faculty members of color and other marginalized backgrounds.
Student Body President and member of the Latinx Student Union Josue Pasillas PZ ‘17 said that last year’s administration was taking the necessary steps to improve upon these issues.
“President Poon was a great listener. The concerns of students were a priority for him,” Pasillas said. “The Executive Board is committed to collaborating with President Oliver to foster an inclusive campus climate that recognizes the diverse experiences at this institution. Moving forward it is important that we facilitate college-wide dialogue to promote understanding and constructive exchanges.”
The Living Document also addresses the contempt many students had for the changes to the 7C Demonstration Policy, made last October. The revised policy prohibited any demonstration or action that is disruptive of campus operations, which many students saw as a violation of their right to free speech and dissent.
The letter from concerned students of color demanded the College validate the right to protest as a legitimate means to challenge systems of power. The Living Document states that “the College stands behind the principles of free speech and academic freedom. The process for revising the demonstration policy at The Claremont Colleges is now underway [and] will include the involvement of students, faculty, and staff.”
The Letter of Concerned Students of Color also demanded to hold campus safety and other policing authorities on campus accountable for racial profiling and criminalization of people of color on the Claremont Colleges. Noting that authoritarian figures have historically targeted men of color, queer people of color, and trans people of color, the Letter calls for heightened accountability and also the dismantling of the College Judicial Council.
The Letter expressed that students of color feel targeted in the College Judicial process. On Dec. 11, 2015, the Faculty Executive Committee voted to appoint a committee to evaluate the College Judicial Council process. The Judicial Council, comprised of ten students (five elected, five appointed), faculty appointed by the Faculty Executive Committee, and staff members appointed by the Staff Council, is tasked to hold hearings to determine if a student has violated the code of Student Conduct.
In an email to TSL, Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Carlisle wrote, “The Judicial Council has responsibility for revising the Code and making recommendations to the College Council for vote. The Council is working on changes to the Code currently.”
Student Senate plans to work towards finding tangible solutions to improve upon the Student Code of Conduct and assure that the College Judicial process is fair and just.
“Throughout the year, the Executive Board will be collaborating with Andrew Lydens [former Student Body President and current Chair of the Judicial Council] to review the College’s judicial process and to advocate for changes as needed,” Pasillas said.
Another issue put forth by the Letter of Demands is how racial affinity groups have been subjected to the same budgetary process of other student organizations and clubs.
“We will not be degraded, scrutinized, and have the purpose of the organization questioned or debated. We demand secure and sustainable funding.” The Letter stated. “We demand work-study positions be made available for marginalized students within student organizations to ensure our well-being.”
In an interview with TSL, Pasillas said, “The Pitzer College Student Senate is currently conducting a review of the budget process to create a fairer allocation of funds. We continue to stand in solidarity with all students of color as the college works to improve the campus climate.”
Pasillas continued, “Student engagement is one of the core values of this institution, and as students we need to own that core value and involve ourselves to make change happen. That has been the tradition at Pitzer since 1963. It’s on us to lead the change, not just the administration.”
The Pitzer College Living Document Addressing Campus Climate Diversity Issues is available online at http://pitweb.pitzer.edu/president/diversity/#letter.