Letter to the editor – April 23

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Dear Editor,

Last week, our alumni representative met with President Veitch. Some good progress has been made toward ending Oxy’s massive safety problem but many problems still exist. We are compiling a list of issues urgently needing to be addressed as well as creating recommendations.

Current and former students, faculty, administration, staff, trustees and governors are all welcome to help identify safety issues and make recommendations — please email ThisProblemEndsNow@gmail.com.

Your names and involvement will be kept confidential.

Here are just a few of the problems that still exist:

1. Oxy’s actions don’t match its words. The president was able to spare only 45 minutes to speak to us about urgent safety matters nine days after the initial request. For the first four days after our request, he was busy fundraising. It’s not that hard to make time for a phone call. Safety is either first priority or it’s not.

In our opinion, the president’s office is too busy to properly handle safety issues. Even if it wasn’t, the same office should not be handling fundraising and serious safety matters.

The Title IX office is a good start but it’s no substitute for a proper Office of Safety to handle cases of sexual assault and to oversee the hearings and sanctions. Yes sexual assault is an important component of Title IX and should be included in that office’s work, but sexual assault is an urgent safety issue first and foremost.

The Dean of Students office should not be listed as the contact for sexual assault on Oxy’s website. That office should not be involved at all until there is no controversy about the Dean of Students and the multiple allegations that the Dean and the Associate Dean discouraged survivors from filing reports.

We ask SMAB to make it a priority this year to establish an Office of Safety and recommend a director for that office and we ask the President to honor their recommendation within 30 days.

2. The board of trustees needs to wake up. We applaud them for the time and effort they’ve put into the safety problems but the problems are far from fixed. In our opinion, the oversight they provide is far from sufficient.

We called a number of trustees. Most trustees parroted the same phrase: “We stand behind the president and the administration.” You do realize that you can stand beside the president and still ask questions such as, “Why haven’t any of the people who discouraged students from filing reports been fired over a year later?”

A few trustees said the campus was safe now and all problems were fixed and when we asked how many students who had been found guilty of rape or sexual assault were still on campus, they immediately stopped talking and said to contact the chair of the board of trustees or the president.

Chair of the board of trustees didn’t respond to either of our two calls. Our email to trustees@oxy.edu wasn’t even acknowledged, much less replied to. We’re not sure if this is due to mismanagement, ego, incompetence or indifference.

Most Trustees wouldn’t talk about outstanding safety issues at all and said to contact the chair of the board of trustees or the president. To them and the others who didn’t return calls, we simply restate the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”

Currently, board of trustees meetings are closed, secretive affairs. The administration wouldn’t even give us the dates they were meeting.

When asked how students could express concerns, trustees said they should contact the president. “What if hypothetically the problem is about the president?” we asked. The answer: “The student needs to contact the President and he will relay the problem to us.”

This is not the way to provide proper oversight. Trustees are supposed to serve the college and its students. They are supposed to listen and provide oversight. Having a single direct communication channel to the trustees through the president is absurd. Having a board chair who doesn’t respond to calls about student safety is appalling.

Trustees, please allocate one hour of the next board meeting and all other board Meetings for an open forum where students, faculty, alumni, and staff can voice their concerns directly. Currently faculty cannot even contact the board of trustees. We know you are busy but if you can’t make time for urgent safety matters to be openly voiced, you should step down. We need Trustees who put the safety and education of the students above all other concerns.

When we asked one of the trustees if it was possible to establish an open forum, we were told to ask the president. No — the board is in charge of the president, not the other way around.

It’s fine for the trustees to establish guidelines for the open forum, but talking about safety issues should be allowed and even encouraged. An anonymous suggestion box managed by students can be used to voice concerns of those who wish to remain anonymous.

Supposedly, there is already an anonymous digital suggestion box for the administration (we couldn’t find it – we only found the dining suggestion box) that should be located on Oxy’s “Contact Us” page. The board of trustees suggestion box should be separate and it should not be sent to the same people who have been ignoring the trustees@oxy.edu email.

Trustees, we call upon you to act now. There’s no more time to waste.

3. It is wrong that Occidental has silenced (except in legal proceedings) the survivors who settled with the college through Gloria Allred. What happened to them is inexcusable. If safety and prevention are priorities, the survivors must be allowed to speak openly and frankly warn others about which students are risks.

They should be allowed to share their opinions and experiences if the school is serious about fixing the safety problems on campus. Your lawyers may have thought it was a good idea but by now you should have learned that more silence leads to more victims and more lawsuits.

Revise their agreement so they can speak freely. Anything less is unethical and shows that PR considerations are a higher priority than student safety.

Students, look out for each other at the upcoming parties. Use a three-person buddy system to keep track of each other. The rule is simple: if you go out together, you come back together. Do not rely on any one person to get you home safely. Call campus escorts for rides home or designate a driver and travel as a group. Establish a volunteer safe rides program if the campus escort service is not sufficient.

If your friend might be a perpetrator, keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble unless he wants prison time. Take your duty as a bystander seriously.

Occidental Weekly, it’s irresponsible to tweet that the alumni have waged a Twitter war, etc. If we were starting a war, we would be very clear about that. We simply pointed out that we’re not above getting more involved and we’re not above protesting in front of the homes and offices of your trustees, governors and administration if they don’t fix the safety problems soon.

Action at the speed of Standard Bureaucrat Time is not acceptable. Urgent safety issues require fast and definitive responses. We are happy to collaborate as long as our collaboration results in effective and timely action, not just talk.

President Veitch, thank you for the actions you are planning on taking before the end of April, Sexual Assault Awareness month. You said you don’t want to live under threat. That’s exactly why we are intervening — we don’t want the students to live under threat. Our only regret is that we didn’t get involved sooner.

We’re not threatening you — we ask that you quickly solve the safety issues — no more endless conversations, no more ignoring faculty votes of no confidence and no more stalling to fire those who discouraged survivors from filing reports.

We said that safety problems require urgent solutions and either you can deliver effective and comprehensive solutions quickly or you need to step down. We stand by that statement and have offered collaboration. Our designated point-of-contact is one of the few who believe this administration can solve this safety issue. Work with her in a timely manner. If she steps down, the college will have no other direct point-of-contact to our group of concerned alumni.

This problem ends now. We will all work together immediately to solve this safety problem before the high-risk period when students first arrive on campus in a few months.

It’s time to put the rhetoric and endless conversations aside and take action immediately to make this campus safer. Safety can’t wait.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Amini ’95

On behalf of concerned alumni

(Point of Contact, not a leader)