Today, Honor Board will vote to determine if Diversity and Equity Board Initiative (DEBI) merits an additional student body fee of $7, a debate that has rocked Occidental’s campus in recent weeks. Supporters of DEBI are right to be outraged when Honor Board does not approve of a small student body fee. Even coming from a very modest annual family income of $25,000, a seven-dollar fee is very bearable for me. This fee increase is intended to help correct the injustices that currently pervade our community. Yet, as key historical social justice events have proven, oppressors will not dole out justice. Marginalized people must be outspoken, revolutionary and successful at taking back the power that has been stolen from them.
Occidental activists are not to blame for polarized positions on DEBI. The Weekly’s Henry Dickmeyer wrote, “Too many Occidental community members must choose between supporting DEBI or being labeled an obstructionist,” suggesting that marginalized ASOC senators were inhibiting dialogue. When white, wealthy, male, cisgender, Christocentric, able and/or heterosexual people say they support DEBI, but also demand civil dialogue, they are voicing coded protections for the status quo. The purpose of social justice is to drive oppressive systems and practices into extinction. Such a goal cannot be reached if oppressed peoples are being told to be silent while injustice occurs around us.
Asking disenfranchised peoples to silence our voices is another way of asking us to ignore these injustices. Marginalized people are so heavily silenced that nothing we could say can possibly overturn society’s hegemonic institutions.
Marginalized people have been told to voice their concerns in democratic arenas of debate, but these “democratic” arenas were founded upon heteronormativity, sizism, cisgenderism, ableism, sexism, classism, Christocentricism, white supremacy and all forms of systematic hegemony. Whether it is in a classroom or a courtroom, marginalized voices are consistently silenced. If you come from systematic privilege and think oppressed peoples are taking away your space to safely voice your opinions, welcome to our world.
It is hard, perhaps impossible, for marginalized people to be civil when discussing matters that affect their lives and wellbeing so profoundly and relentlessly. The stakes of enacting social justice are incomparably different for marginalized and privileged groups, as dismantling systematic oppression means empowering disenfranchised people by diminishing the overwhelming power of people with privileged identities. Working for equity does not mean we should blame privileged people, but we should hold them accountable for the unequal advantages they hold.
The debate over DEB is one that will have a deep impact on the well-being of marginalized individuals at Occidental, which is why it is troubling when students say they support the idea of DEB, but not the initiative’s funding sources. Since diversity and equity are pillars of the Occidental experience, marginalized community members are entitled to a well-funded institutional resource. The funding source proposed by Senate would rightly draw from resources that otherwise wouldn’t go towards equity. Thus, those who continue to inhibit DEBI’s implementation due to disagreements over funding sources are no different from those who are opposed to it politically. Such half-measured support for anti-oppression efforts are textbook examples of false allyship and a covert defense of the status quo.
The voices of DEB supporters are a faint buzz compared to the thunderous hegemony that exists on campus. The implementation of DEBI would institutionalize campus equity in a way unlike any other effort before it. Enacting DEB is not the final goal of social justice at Occidental, but it is a pivotal stepping stone to a long-term campus institutional commitment for equity. This initiative has the potential to set an empowering precedent for equity in years, if not generations, to come. The only thing standing in its way are students who believe that their privilege is only beginning to be threatened.