Students, faculty and staff convened in Choi Auditorium Thursday at noon to ask President Jonathan Veitch and other administrators questions about diversity and racism at Occidental, as well as actions the administration will take to address the demands made by student activist group Oxy United for Black Liberation.
Questions primarily centered on Veitch’s assessment of diversity at the college, mechanisms to keep the administration accountable for promises made to the community and Veitch’s engagement with the student body.
Sociology Professor Richard Mora moderated the hour-long meeting — which was open to the community — at the request of students and the administration. He began the meeting by establishing ground rules for asking and answering questions to ensure the dialogue was productive and “action-oriented.” Mora asked that Veitch and the audience refrain both from repeating material that was said in emails and from prefacing questions or answers with testimonials.
Mora reiterated these parameters throughout the meeting and repeatedly told the audience not to contest Veitch’s responses regardless of whether they were satisfied with his answers. He also reminded Veitch to answer questions specifically and directly.
The first question, from a student, asked if meetings with the entire community would be held monthly or bimonthly in the future, to which Veitch responded affirmatively.
Subsequently, students also asked for clarification about actions taken by the administration during the occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC), particularly the presence of the Los Angeles Police Department at the Samuelson Alumni Center Nov. 18 and why the doors of the third floor of the AGC were locked in the weeks following the occupation. In addition, a student asked what Veitch’s time commitments were moving forward, given that the student perceived the administration to have responded to activism on campus by protecting the college’s image and intimidating faculty.
“That’s not who I am and what I care about — I care about you, full stop,” Veitch said in response to the latter question. “One of the challenges of my office is that it’s all consuming, and it requires a great deal of time away from the campus. I have focused on raising money for the institution at the cost of the people in this room, and I own that.”
Audience members also requested that Veitch share his opinion of diversity at Occidental, such as if he thought that institutional racism was present at the college and why the college was allegedly less diverse than it had been in the past. Veitch acknowledged that racism exists at the college and later said that during his presidency, the percentage of students of color on campus rose from 38 percent to 44–45 percent.
“[At Occidental,] we are constantly replicating the circuits of power in our language, in our ways of thinking, in representations that we make of one another and in the media … and that’s part of what an education is meant to do, is to challenge that replication,” Veitch said.
In response to an audience member’s question about whether Veitch would resign if he could not meet every demand, Veitch said that he would not step down and that he was committed to meeting the demands and creating a more diverse and inclusive campus.
At multiple points during the meeting, Veitch emphasized his role as a fundraiser at the college and said that one of the ways in which he promotes diversity at Occidental is by raising money for scholarships.
“The most important thing I can do is to raise money for this institution to support all the things we care about the most,” Veitch said. “I take deeply the point that I need to be more present and need to listen more carefully and to support every single person in this room.”
Multiple audience members expressed concern about ways in which the community could hold Veitch and other administrators accountable for fulfilling commitments made in response to the demands or the accountability meeting.
Veitch said that everyone in the community was accountable and offered the current meeting as a way to hold him personally accountable, but students — assisted by Mora as moderator — asked for an answer with more specific examples.
“I don’t have to be lead by a leash to be held accountable,” Veitch said.
By the end of the meeting, Veitch agreed that certain student suggestions could be implemented in the future, including office hours at a neutral location on campus, a meeting between the board of trustees and students and the hiring of an ombudsperson if the faculty council determines the position necessary.
Although Veitch left Choi at 1 p.m., the meeting’s scheduled end time, Mora offered to stay and moderate a discussion among the remaining administrators, faculty, students and staff. Most of the audience left, and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jorge González, General Council Leora Freedman, Chief for Administrative Affairs Marsha Schnirring and Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Marty Sharkey answered questions about Campus Safety’s policies, the protocol for sending emails to parents and the plans for the property at York Boulevard and Armadale Avenue that the college bought last spring.