Occidental community needs accomplices, not allies, in fight for diversity and equity on campus


A careful glance at the Coalition at Occidental for Diversity and Equity’s (C.O.D.E.) timeline shows the rise and fall of student movements for social justice. C.O.D.E.’s website does not include an explanation for the decline of the 2006 Oxy Unite group or the 2010 Student Diversity Coalition, but my personal experiences working with anti-oppression organizations at Occidental, such as La Raza Coalition, allow me to contemplate why activist groups wane. Ever-increasing academic demands, political apathy and, above all, lackluster support from allies beleaguered our cultural, political and social organization.

Being an ally is widely seen as a positive step in dismantling oppression. Many courses and student-run organizations discuss why allies should take a stand, but these discourses do not always provide details on how allies should fulfill their role. Without a complete understanding of their role in social justice movements, an ally can easily become a symbolic figure.

But good intentions and knowledge of the roots of social injustice is not enough. Injustice still exists today because of the history of inaction and half-measures from allies.

Because the explicit demands of social justice organizations have not been met, allyship has run the gamut. Allyship is inherently a half measure for social justice that is problematic even in name. Agents of oppression cannot be in an alliance with targets of oppression when the ultimate goal is equity. An alliance is a union for mutual benefit while the goal of equity is to destroy the unequal benefits privileged groups hold.

Instead of encouraging people to be allies, we ought to encourage them to be accomplices. The term was coined by activist Klee Benally in his discussion of indigenous equity.

“[Accomplices] don’t just have our backs, they are at our side, or in their own spaces confronting and unsettling colonialism,” Benally wrote.

To some, accomplice may be synonymous with ally. This conclusion, though tempting, is incorrect. The act of truly working for equity will bring dangerous tests that only accomplices can deal with. Because of the historical criminalization of those working for equity, an accomplice both draws attention to and stands in solidarity with marginalized advocates. The Black Panther Party (BPP), for example, might bring to mind a rag tag group of ruthless police killers that ruined the legacy of peaceful activists from the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s. But few consider that the BPP embodied holistic and eclectic methods of achieving gender, queer, racial and socio-economic justice.

Though oppressors can certainly gain invaluable knowledge and rehumanize themselves, as Paulo Freire wrote, accomplices do not see this as their paramount goal. The main goal of an accomplice is to eradicate and unlearn oppression and the belief that agents should remain silent while widespread injustice occurs. It takes substantial awareness, proactive thinking and tangible action for someone to be an accomplice.

Being an accomplice means sticking around when things slow down. After the protests, the marches and loud demonstrations, the real work begins for social justice. As of now, C.O.D.E. has yet to see all of their 29 Actions to Achieve Equity and Excellence met by the Occidental administration. C.O.D.E. must also navigate obstacles put in place by students and student-run organizations that perpetuate injustices. The Diversity and Equity Board Initiative (DEBI) remains in limbo because the Honor Board is unsure if the proposal merits an increase in student fees. DEBI’s call for a $7 student fee was a very low request. If Honor Board is correct in assuming Occidental students will not accept such a marginal request for such an important cause, this is only the beginning of woes for diversity and equity at Occidental. The time has come for Occidental’s self-proclaimed allies to learn instead what it means to become an accomplice, and bring actual diversity back to Occidental.

Damian Mendieta is a senior History and Latino/a and Latin American Studies double major. He can be reached at mendieta@oxy.edu or on Twitter @DamianRMendieta.




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