The Pitzer College Black Student Union called on the college last week to provide greater support for Black students in a six-point address, offering solutions that they say would “support and foster a successful and well-rounded college experience for their Black students.”
Specifically, the BSU called for active recruitment of Black faculty and staff, aggressive recruitment of Black students, more robust financial aid packages, more Black administrators in the admissions and student affairs offices and a bridge program for incoming first-year students, among other requests.
Members of the BSU want the college to be “cognizant of the acts of racial violence against Black lives and how that has caused added stress to Black students during this time,” according to the address. They requested a direct response from Pitzer President Melvin Oliver by Sept. 28 and asked to meet with Oliver and the Board of Trustees to discuss the actions Pitzer can take to make Black students “feel more safe, supported, and at home at Pitzer College.”
Two days after the address was released publicly, Oliver reached out to the BSU leadership team to schedule a meeting with them for Sept. 17, according to a BSU Instagram post.
“President Oliver was very understanding and agreed that Pitzer has some work to do, and is committed to meeting those requests highlighted in our statement,” the post said.
BSU leadership intends to meet with him bi-weekly and is also scheduling meetings with various Pitzer vice presidents, the post said. They have also been invited by Oliver to the Board of Trustees’ meeting Oct. 9 to discuss their statement.
Oliver launched his inaugural Racial Justice Initiative earlier this month to support productive discussion, analysis and activism. Funds will be provided for curricular, co-curricular and structural transformation to deepen student, staff and faculty knowledge and action around racial violence.
According to the address, Oliver did not contact Pitzer’s BSU before he introduced the racial justice initiative. A spokesperson for Oliver did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Black students deserve mentors and advisors that can adequately support them. [They] do not want to come to a school they cannot see themselves thriving in.” — Kaila Teague PZ ’22
The BSU requested that the college engage with them moving forward about the Racial Justice Initiative and other initiatives, policies and programming involving or relating to Black students on campus.
“To implement true change, the school must understand that listening to the personal testimonies and meeting Black students’ needs for success is where that change begins,” the address says.
The address calls for active recruitment of Black faculty, staff and students at Pitzer to be initiated immediately, with at least one new Black faculty member being hired no later than the fall 2021 semester. The address called on the administration to use the Target of Opportunity approach to recruit new faculty in a way that enhances diversity and inclusion, referring to the process of recruiting specific hiring candidates from underrepresented groups, rather than conducting general searches for a new hire.
“The biggest thing for me is lack of representation. Black faculty and staff are a necessity,” Kaila Teague PZ ’22 said via email. “Black students deserve mentors and advisors that can adequately support them. [They] do not want to come to a school they cannot see themselves thriving in.”
As for the call for more Black administrators in the admissions and student affairs offices, Teague, who has worked in the admissions office, believes a full-time Black admission counselor could “increase the outreach to Black students while providing essential insight on the opportunities and experiences prospective Black students need.”
BSU members said the hiring of Black admissions officers would help Pitzer in the “aggressive recruitment of Black students.” More Black students will allow Black students to feel at home at Pitzer and ensure that Posse and Questbridge scholars can arrive at Pitzer with a “community of students that will support them,” the address said.
“There have been 52 years to implement the improvements and changes listed in the 1968-9 demands and yet here we are asking for the same things.” — Solange Baker PZ ’23
Quentin Jenkins PZ ’23 said there have been several incidents where BIPOC students were burdened with the task of advocating for Black students, which is something he said he experienced while working for the #NobodyFailsAtPitzer movement last semester. The student-organized movement urged the Pitzer administration to adopt a Universal A grading policy for the Spring 2020 semester when the coronavirus pandemic forced students to be sent back home.
“I feel like us BIPOC students are never just students at these predominantly white institutions. We are students, advocates, diversity interns [and] have the burden of taking on multiple jobs,” Jenkins said via email. “Some of that may be voluntary, but believe me, it’s voluntary because we want to make the future experiences better for future generations of minority students [at] the Claremont Colleges.”
To combat this problem, the BSU recommends the college implement a bridge program to support Black students who are first-generation college students or come from low-income backgrounds or under-resourced high schools.
Teague highlighted the fact that many Black students at Pitzer come from predominantly Black areas with more racial and ethnic diversity than exists at Pitzer and the Claremont Colleges.
“For many Black students, this is their first experience in a predominantly white space,” Teague said. “Asking Black students to perform academically and socially in this kind of environment without institutional support is an injustice in itself.”
The address includes a separate set of demands the BSU said the Claremont Colleges Black Student Union drafted in the 1968-69 academic year. Members of Pitzer’s current BSU say several of their demands match the ones made 52 years ago.
“I don’t think it can be emphasized enough how little change has happened since the college was founded,” Solange Baker PZ ’23 said. “There have been 52 years to implement the improvements and changes listed in the 1968-9 demands and yet here we are asking for the same things.”
Since publicly sharing their address earlier this week, Pitzer’s BSU has received support from all other Black student associations at the 5Cs: at Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College and Pomona College.
“We don’t want posts and statements about anti-racism only to be dehumanized on campus, we want real concrete change and amplification of Black voices — that is the first step in showing you’re listening.” — Solange Baker PZ ’23
Members of the BSU also circulated a petition to build support for creating a better community for Black students at Pitzer College.
“We don’t want performative promises that will fall through within the year,” Baker said.
“We don’t want posts and statements about anti-racism only to be dehumanized on campus, we want real concrete change and amplification of Black voices — that is the first step in showing you’re listening.”