Dear Pitzer Community:

As I reported last week, the vice presidents for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Admission & Financial Aid and I have recently been in conversation with members of Pitzer’s Black Student Union (BSU) to better understand the challenges that Black students at Pitzer face, and to develop solutions to improve their experience and ensure their success at the College.

Since receiving the BSU letter in mid-September and sending my initial response the following day, we have engaged in a series of frank and productive meetings. We agree that there is more the College should and can do to support and improve the educational experience and success of Black students at Pitzer. I am sharing with you the mutually-developed and agreed upon understandings that have emerged from our discussions.

Recruitment of Black Faculty

A diverse faculty has always been, and will continue to be, a high priority for Pitzer. This commitment has been particularly evident lately as the majority of recent full-time tenure-track faculty hires have been people of color, and two of the last five faculty hired at Pitzer identify as Black.

Dean Omoto has initiated discussions with both our Appointments, Promotion and Tenure (APT) Committee and the Academic Planning Committee (APC) regarding potential revisions, extensions and use of our policies focused on increasing faculty diversity. This includes being able to fill an authorized position with an extraordinary individual who simultaneously meets a field group’s needs and furthers the College’s commitment to faculty diversity, and the creation and prioritization of tenure-track or part-time appointments that meet diversity criteria. These strategies represent two versions of current Target of Opportunity policies. Whatever the end result of these processes, there must be alignment between the new faculty we hire and the academic and teaching needs at the College.

This past year, Dean Omoto also alerted field groups about joint needs related to replacement teaching. He continues to explore how we can more effectively use sabbatical replacement or potentially other visiting faculty positions to further our diversity goals. For example, Pitzer’s faculty handbook describes a Visiting Junior Scholars Program and a Visiting Advanced Scholars Program.  These programs involve the pooling of sabbatical replacement money to fund scholars who further our diversity goals, but to date, they have been underutilized.

Recruitment of Black Students

On a national level, Pitzer has historically attracted Black students from strong academic backgrounds interested in a smaller, highly engaged community. Unfortunately, we cannot admit all the qualified Black students who apply to Pitzer because we cannot afford to make the full financial commitment that we guarantee to all the students we admit. Among the Black students we admit, we lose many of them to institutions that offer more money in the form of both merit scholarships and need-based financial aid.

We commit to continued work with community-based organizations throughout the country to aggressively recruit Black students. To support recruitment, we are now involving current Pitzer students to assist with recruitment visits. Prospective students and high school counselors have responded very positively to this approach. And, in the current virtual environment, it is proving to be a very effective strategy to attract the interest of prospective students. Additionally, the Admissions staff is meeting with members of BSU to help identify outreach areas that Pitzer has not traditionally targeted.

We are also in the process of making inquiries with both Posse and QuestBridge as to their costs and viability to help Pitzer recruit and enroll more diverse students.

There is interest in the leadership of Student Affairs, Admissions and Academic Affairs to develop a Pitzer College bridge program. Student Affairs will reach out to BSU and other constituencies to integrate their ideas into planning efforts. There are also several existing bridge programs that have the potential to be expanded. We continue to support our local Claremont Colleges access programs and could potentially enroll more students of color if funds were available. Additionally, we have discussed creating or augmenting the transitional bridge program to enhance the work Keck Science faculty do with some of our incoming STEM students. We need to identify sources of funding to develop, enhance and expand these bridge programs. While these may be more long-term goals, they remain an important part of our overall student recruitment strategy.

More Robust Financial Aid Package

The Financial Aid office will begin working more closely with BSU and other student affinity groups. They are committed to being more visible and to providing additional access to Financial Aid staff. The goal is to do more small-group presentations and one-on-one meetings so that students can proactively and intentionally plan their academic progress, and do not find themselves saddled with unexpected additional loans to complete their degrees. These cooperative efforts should help open up lines of communication and enable students to optimize financial aid during their time here at Pitzer College.

We will continue to review our financial aid packaging and its ability to meet student needs. It is important to know that the bulk of the College’s budget devoted to student financial support is funded through tuition revenue. As a heavily tuition-dependent institution, the vast majority of our funding comes from our operations budget rather than from earnings on our endowment or fundraising. In fact, Pitzer allocated more than $17 million (more than 25% of the College’s annual budget) toward institutional financial aid last year. This aid takes the form of Pitzer grants which are awarded to students based on demonstrated financial need.

Furthermore, new guidelines from the Trump administration regarding affirmative action are complicating our efforts to recruit more underrepresented students at the College. This is an area of concern nationally, prompting some colleges to cancel their diversity programs. We will examine and leverage whatever resources we can under these circumstances to place more resources in the hands of our underrepresented students.

Loans are an integral part of our financial aid packaging. Pitzer does not have the financial resources to take loans off the table. We have a delicate balance of students who pay the full amount of tuition and those who do not; this balance enables the College to provide need-based financial aid to students who are otherwise unable to afford a Pitzer education. If we remove loans from the equation, we would support fewer students given our current resources. In addition, the costs of eliminating loans would be exorbitant and would not be financially feasible for Pitzer at this time.

Recruitment of Staff

Staff positions do not come open frequently at Pitzer.  Both Student Affairs and Admissions have committed to making affirmative efforts to replace the next position that becomes available with a Black staff member if possible.

Student Affairs is exploring hiring a consultant to do the diversity and inclusion orientation for new students which will be an opportunity to bring in a Black resource person.

Student Affairs is also working toward hiring a graduate student intern in social work or a related field with expertise in racial justice to assist Black students, and underrepresented students in general, with their adjustment to academic and co-curricular life at Pitzer.

Bias Reduction on Campus

Last spring, Dean Omoto appointed an Associate Dean, Professor Adrian Pantoja, whose primary responsibilities revolve around diversity, equity and inclusion. Professor Pantoja sits on the Diversity Committee and is also the current chair of my Presidential Racial Justice Initiative. He is open to dialoguing with BSU and developing strategies to be responsive to racial bias on campus.

The Diversity Committee is the natural home for the development of college-wide bias reduction initiatives and programming. This committee receives funding from my office and also the Dean of Faculty. The Diversity Committee is aware of BSU concerns and will be discussing future programming possibilities.   

Student Affairs is also looking at this issue and plans to develop a bias response protocol for the campus. This likely will include a recommendation for a team to be responsible for the monitoring, documenting, educating and responding to incidents of bias at the College.

Working with the President

I am committed to keeping lines of communication open with BSU, to regularly attend BSU meetings, and to better integrate BSU and other affinity groups into the Racial Justice Initiative.

I hope it is evident that I, along with many others at the College, am supportive and committed to these efforts. In particular, the leadership of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Admissions & Financial Aid all stand ready to carry out the initiatives and policy changes necessary to contribute to the success of Black students at Pitzer. 

A diverse educational environment benefits all of us as we learn from the rich and complex histories, perspectives and life experiences of others in our community. Supporting the aspirations and abilities of Black students at Pitzer is consistent with our mission and institutional values, particularly the College’s stated commitment to social responsibility and intercultural understanding. And these efforts represent yet another step in making Pitzer a more just and inclusive institution.

Over the past month, I have received numerous statements in support of Black students at Pitzer. I know you will join me in supporting these changes and improvements which hold us all accountable to Pitzer’s mission and values.

Provida Futuri,

Melvin L. Oliver