A group of more than 400 students have taken part in an ongoing occupation of an administrative building at Occidental College in Los Angeles to demand, among other things, the resignation of the school president, Jonathan Veitch.
The student activists issued a list of demands at a rally Thursday in response to the treatment of minority student groups on campus. Other demands include the demilitarization of the campus police, the creation of a black studies major, and the immediate removal of the Los Angeles Police Department from campus. Activists have given the administration a Friday deadline to meet these demands.
The students’ occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center began on Monday, and has involved about 100 students at any one time, according to activists involved. They estimate a total of more than 400 students have participated in the occupation, going to classes during the day while others remain in the building.
“There are no plans to force students to leave the building,” Jim Tranquada, Occidental spokesman, told The Huffington Post. “They have not been asked to leave the building. We have kept the heat, lights and power on, and the bathrooms open.”
Earlier this week in a campus-wide email Veitch said that he would try to set up “group meetings with various stakeholders” about the demonstrations. The student organizers said they haven’t had any conversations with senior administrators yet. Tranquada said the student activists declined the offer of a meeting on Tuesday.
“At the demonstration on Thursday, I witnessed the pain and feelings of marginalization that many in our community feel,” Veitch said in his email. “You spoke eloquently and honestly, and I thank you for that. I will continue to listen and learn from you, and I ask the entire community to help me make Occidental a better place for everyone.”
Activists have noted that Veitch also told students at the rally that he would be willing to step down. “I do not cling to this job, I’m happy to resign,” Veitch said.
The activism at Occidental, a well-regarded liberal arts college, follows a wave ofdemonstrations nationwide over how students of color are treated at institutions of higher education.
Criticisms of Veitch – whose current contract expires in 2020 – precede the current turmoil, however.
Students have said there’s a cloud of distrust around the administration’s approach to sexual violence, which is currently the subject of a federal investigation. Faculty voted “no confidence” in the college’s handling of such cases two years ago. Protesters say that Occidental’s handling of sexual assault cases in recent years plays into their activism.
“The president has not been addressing numerous concerns over the years properly,” said Diamond Webb, a senior. “Marginalized students have not felt safe, women have not felt safe, women of color have not felt safe on this campus. So the president has not been doing his job.”
Veitch also angered some students last week when he left the rally as some female students began discussing their experiences of sexual assault on campus.
Whereas institutions like the University of Missouri and Yale University have smaller numbers of students of color on campus, nearly half of Occidental’s student body is not white.
The college’s promotion of the diversity of its student body, in light of its inadequate responses to previous requests for more support for minority students, feels “exploitive,” said sophomore Chance Ward. They put the onus on the administration to work with students to implement changes to better serve those groups.
“We can’t do it on our own,” Ward said. “When we try to do it on our own, bureaucratic things get in our way, so we need them.”
Below is a list of student activists’ demands: