Pitzer College Launches Racial Justice Initiative Inaugural Panel

President Melvin L. Oliver
Melvin L. Oliver, president of Pitzer College

CLAREMONT, Calif. (September 3, 2020)—Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver’s Racial Justice Initiative, which seeks to embed the study of racial violence and justice throughout the campus and curriculum, will launch its inaugural panel on Thursday, September 10, from 4:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. PDT, with a virtual conversation among activist scholars on police violence and racial justice in the 21st century.

Panelists include Melvin L. Oliver, president of Pitzer College, co-author of the seminal book Black Wealth/White Wealth and noted expert on racial and urban inequality; Andrea Ritchie, activist, author and currently a researcher-in-residence on race, gender, sexuality and criminalization at the Barnard Center for Research on Women; john a. powell, professor of law, African American studies and ethnic studies and director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley; and Phillip Atiba Goff, co-founder and CEO of the Center for Policing Equity, and a professor of African-American studies and psychology at Yale University. 

In announcing the initiative in spring 2020, Oliver said: “I envision a range of courses that could include ones that analyze the historical underpinnings of racial violence to courses on police-community relations in racially marginalized communities. Co-curricular activities might include forums that bring distinguished speakers and marginalized community members to campus to share their perspectives. What we do best at Pitzer College is take scholarship and community engagement and direct it at the most intractable of problems. Let us focus on this one, for it is truly a roadblock upon our road to social justice.”

The inaugural panel brings together an impressive set of activist scholars who have combined scholarship with engagement in advocacy that advances racial justice. They will address a range of topics, including the distinctiveness of this moment for transformational change; police brutality and the limits and possibilities of police reform/abolition; the nature of systemic racism; and the political uses of racial violence. The panelists will reflect upon their work, providing students a varied set of examples to emulate in the struggle for racial justice.

Pitzer College has a distinguished history of community engagement and an institutional commitment to social justice. Pitzer is a leader in justice-based work that combats systemic racism, discrimination and violence. The goal of the President’s Racial Justice Initiative is to support productive discussion, analysis and activism around racial justice.

The initiative will focus on three areas over the next three years: 1) embed the study of racial violence, inequality and justice throughout the curriculum; 2) co-curricular transformation—of which this event is a part—to focus dialogue on campus around these central issues of racial justice by hosting distinguished speakers, art programming, and collaborating with student groups, centers and institutes; 3) structural transformation on campus, aiming to more fully embrace diversity and promote opportunity and equity across all lines of difference. This initiative is coordinated through the Dean of Faculty’s Office, with funding support from the Pitzer College President’s Office and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Associate Dean of Faculty Adrian Pantoja chairs the initiative’s organizing committee. A professor in political studies and Chicano Studies and a senior analyst with Latino Decisions, a political consulting firm, he has relevant scholarly expertise and frontline experience working to understand and combat racial injustice and community violence. Professor Pantoja is working with representatives from the Office of Student Affairs, Student Senate and Staff Council about their collaboration and involvement. The organizing committee will also include representatives from Pitzer College student identity groups, including the Black Student Union. The objective is to make the initiative campus-wide, transformational, inclusive and sustainable. 

The inaugural panel discussion is just one of several events to take place throughout the academic year as part of the initiative. Various offices and programs in Academic Affairs, including the Art Galleries, Community Engagement Center, Study Abroad, the Robert Redford Conservancy, IGLAS and the Writing Center, are planning activities and programs that connect to the initiative. Although many of the activities will be Pitzer-specific, the College anticipates that other colleges, including those involved in the Pitzer-led Justice Education Initiative, will coordinate efforts and events.

The current national context calls for bold leadership and ideas; Pitzer College aspires to be at the forefront in the fight for racial equality and justice. The President’s Racial Justice Initiative invites faculty, staff and students to envision themselves as part of the solution and to work together to fight for justice on our own campus, in our nation, and in the world at large.   

Related Link:
Racial Justice in Our Time: A Conversation with Activist Scholars – video, transcript and speaker bios

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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