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Occidental College president says he won't resign

Students occupy the administrative offices of Occidental College on Monday, November 16, 2015.
Students occupy the administrative offices of Occidental College on Monday, November 16, 2015.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/ KPCC

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Update: Read the president's response »

After two days of protests at Occidental College, where hundreds of students have spoken out about racial tension on campus and repeatedly called for president President Jonathan Veitch to resign, college leaders pushed back.

In an email sent to students late Tuesday, Occidental's Board of Trustees said they supported Veitch and had "no intention of changing the leadership of the college." Shortly after, Veitch spoke to KPCC, and said he would remain in his position, and would work to mend relations with the students.

"I am committed to this institution, I believe in this institution, I want to be part of the solution for it," said Veitch. "I’m here 7, 8 o’clock at night waiting for someone to talk to."

Hundreds of students at Occidental are occupying the administrative building and say they will remain there through the end of the week. Their occupation follows a wave of protests at universities around the country, touched off by turmoil at the University of Missouri. There, African-American students protested the University's inaction to long-standing racism on the campus. Two administrators resigned.

Not far from Occidental, at Claremont McKenna College, students spoke out about micro-aggressions aimed at "marginalized" students, primarily those of color. Under pressure from those students, the dean of students resigned last week. 

On the Occidental campus this week, a group known as Oxy United for Black Liberation called on school officials to meet 14 demands related to increasing diversity and representation at the school. The group has asked for a response by Friday.

"Amongst these demands," the press release said, "are the removal of Jonathan Veitch from his position as president, the creation of a Black Studies major, the hiring of more faculty of color, an increase in funding for campus organizations run by students of color, and the creation of a diversity training for faculty and students."

On Tuesday, students said they were disappointed after reading the email sent by the college's Board of Trustees, which read, in part: 

"We live in a society that is divided by issues of racial injustice and other inequities. I deeply regret that Occidental is not immune from those problems. Despite our best intentions and collective commitments to creating a safe and welcoming environment, Occidental remains a microcosm of that society. We must, and will, do better."

When told that Veitch was looking to enter into a dialogue with protestors, student Diamond Webb said conversations had been ongoing for years, with no concrete change to show for it.

"That conversation and dialogue thing, I just can’t do it anymore. It’s draining. I'd much rather show them we are acting, so you need to act as well."

The students have set a deadline of Friday for their occupation. What happens when that time comes? When asked, neither side could say for sure.

Response from college president Jonathan Veitch

Veitch sent the following communication late Tuesday in response to the protests.

From: President Veitch
Date: Tue, Nov 17, 2015 at 9:21 PM
Subject: [Oxy-admin-l] An Important Community Update from Jonathan on Diversity and Inclusion

Dear Oxy Community,

First and foremost, I want every member of our community to know how much they matter to me and the College. At the demonstration on Thursday, I witnessed the pain and feelings of marginalization that many in our community feel. 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. I am committed to making this happen.

For many years, our community has helped lead important discussions on diversity and inclusion. Every person must have a voice and place to safely express themselves without fear of judgment or shame. Together, we have confronted and worked through many challenging issues. We have embarked on these painful conversations together, and we have found ways to forge a path forward. While our work on such important and complex issues is never over, it is my belief that they are furthered by conversation, debate, and even disagreement—but they must be based on mutual respect. While we can make decisions on our own, we know that the most meaningful change will be made by working together.

To the community, I ask that you help me find a way to restart and maintain a conversation about diversity and inclusion that will be transformative. Over the next 24 hours, I am personally reaching out to leaders of this movement and inviting them to join me in this important work. At the same time, I am beginning a series of group meetings with various stakeholders in our community to discuss how the activities of the past weeks have impacted them and how we move forward together.

To the leaders of the movement taking place on campus, making change requires dialogue—and it is my hope that we will be able to have a meaningful and respectful conversation very soon. I invite you to the table when you are ready to join me. In the meantime, I will communicate in writing. 

I wish to include the entire community in this critical and difficult work, and I will be grateful to those who demonstrate the patience and commitment to partner with me despite any differences that we have.

Warmly,

Jonathan

(Southern California Public Radio's president and CEO, Bill Davis, is a member of Occidental College's Board of Trustees.)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Occidental president Jonathan Veitch's first name. KPCC regrets the error.

This story has been updated.