True Equity: Systemic Change
A thought-provoking conversation about the racial wealth gap, Pitzer’s Racial Justice Initiative, and the need for “radical imaginations” to create a multiracial democracy, featuring:
Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College president and co-author of Black Wealth/White Wealth
Angela Glover Blackwell, Pitzer College trustee and founder of PolicyLink
Julia Weber P’23, Pitzer Family Leadership Council member and an expert on violence prevention
Brandon Kyle, Pitzer College director of alumni and family engagement
Brandon Kyle: Hello everyone. My name is Brandon Kyle. I’m the Director of Alumni and Family Engagement here at Pitzer College. A special hello to our Pitzer families joining us for Family Weekend, our incredible alumni, as well as to our other 5C community members. We are so pleased to have you with us today. This digital “new normal” has allowed us to bring you the very best parts of our institution directly to your home and all across the world.
Thank you so much for joining us for the launch of our True Equity conversation series. This will be the first of four important discussions as we explore various topics stemming from systemic racial injustice, lived experiences, the power of community and fundamental change both at Pitzer and in the US. President Oliver announced the formation of the Pitzer Racial Justice Initiative in the spring of 2020. And in his message, he said quote, “Pitzer’s commitment to equity and inclusion runs deep and wide,” but also boldly acknowledged that, quote, “We still come up short.” He goes on to say that in spite of that, as an educational institution we continue the quest to better understand, to create more effective advocacy, and to promote social change to address the violence and injustice suffered by the African American community, and many other marginalized Americans.
The True Equity series is a continuation of that commitment and that quest. It is also a response to Pitzer’s Black Student Union September 2020 statement, which outlined ways that Pitzer can create more equity and align support on campus. My team and I collaborated with alumni board member Derric Johnson, class of 1995, Family Leadership Council Member Julia Weber, P’23, and the Office of Advancement and Communications to create a working group to develop this series in coordination with Pitzer’s Racial Justice Initiative, which this series was inspired by.
Today you will hear from President of Pitzer College Melvin Oliver, trustee and founder of PolicyLink Angela Glover Blackwell, and Family Leadership Council member and consultant Julia Weber who will be moderating this discussion this evening. Before we get started, I’d like to introduce to you Julia Weber. Julia is the mother of Pitzer student Zachary Feinberg, Class of ‘23. She is a consultant, speaker, trainer, and the implementation director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Julia has worked nationally on drafting, advocating for, and implementing policies to decrease violence, prevent bias, and improve access to justice for families. Also an attorney, social worker, and mediator, Julie teaches domestic violence at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, and presents regularly to courts, social service providers, and legal professionals on a wide range of issues, including providing trauma-informed services, effective interventions, addressing intimate partner violence, and the use of technology in Family Law matters. Julia recently spent 18 months working with San Francisco colleagues and universities in developing and implementing policies on sexual assault on campus, and has previously taught courses on race, gender, law and women’s studies in Washington University in St. Louis, where she received a BA, JD and MSW. Julia is also an executive committee member of the Pitzer College Family Leadership Council and has been a key advocate and partner in the support of this series. With that being said, I will now hand it over to Julia. Thank you for joining us.
Julia Weber: Thank you very much, Brandon, thank you for organizing us to be here today. Thank you very much for all of your wisdom, your support and the good work you’ve been doing. It’s been a pleasure to be working with you and Derric Johnson and others on this initiative and other work with the Family Leadership Council, FLC. So I’m very happy to be here today and very happy to be doing what I can to support Pitzer College, especially on behalf of my son, who, as you mentioned, is a sophomore and a member of the Black Student Union, BSU. And I am also particularly happy in terms of the work I’ve been able to do, Brandon; you went into some detail about that. And part of my efforts throughout my career have focused largely on developing equitable approaches, both in terms of intervention and prevention in a wide variety of areas dealing with social justice, racial equality, and related issues. So, I’m very happy to be part of the Racial Justice Initiative and to kick off this important series today and to be part of the True Equity series. I am also very honored to introduce our two panelists and to get the discussion going today. And I’m just so happy we have so many people joining us from all over. So, thank you, and welcome to the discussion.
First, it gives me enormous pleasure to introduce Melvin Oliver, President of Pitzer College. President Oliver is also an award-winning sociology professor, who was named California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. He’s a noted expert on racial and urban inequality, which we are going to get to hear about more today. He’s the co-author of the award-winning Black Wealth, White Wealth, a New Perspective on Racial Inequality, which reveals the long-term financial ramifications of deep and persistent racial inequality in America.
He earned his BA from William Penn College, and his Master’s and PhD from Washington University in St. Louis, which honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award twice, particularly impressed given my association with the university as an alum. And it’s not only the place I earned those degrees and taught on race, gender and law before I moved to California, but President Oliver and I recently discovered that we not only share an alma mater, but have a favorite professor in common. And the fact that we found that common ground 2000 miles away from Washington University, I think is a wonderful testament to the enduring, long standing, very influential work that goes into teaching, the impact it can have on all of us in our careers. So good teaching shapes all of us and it’s such a pleasure to have that connection with you, President Oliver. So glad you’re here today.
And it’s also my honor to introduce you to Angela Glover Blackwell, grandparent, GP’21. She’s a Pitzer trustee and the founder of PolicyLink which is devoted to advancing economic and social equity. Angela is a lawyer by training and a leading voice in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color. She was recently appointed by Governor Newsom to a California State Committee to consider a post-pandemic path to recovery. She’s the author of Uncommon Ground, Race and America’s Future. She has received both Independent Sector’s John W. Gardner Leadership Award and UC Berkeley’s Peter E. Haas Public Service Award. She is mentioned as a Pitzer grandparent and not only do we have family in common through the Pitzer community, but I have the privilege of working regularly and directly with Angela’s colleagues, folks at PolicyLink who are some of the most incredible people doing that kind of work in California. I’m very proud to be able to share the screen and the discussion today with the founder of one of my favorite organization. So, thank you, Angela, for being part of this conversation and a critical part of the Pitzer community.
So, we’re going to get started, President Oliver. Ever since we met, I had been wanting to read Black Wealth, White Wealth. And I was so glad to have that opportunity to do that as part of the book club that we’ve organized, the Pitzer College Alumni and Family Book Club. And we’re reading that book right now, and I’ve finished it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was such an important work that I hope even more people will read. I was really struck by the critical foundation it established for understanding where we are today in the US and how we got here. For those who haven’t read the book, I’m wondering if you could describe its central thesis just to start us off here.
President Oliver: Well, I’m going to try to do that. My father was a minister. And as my father used to say, it takes about 15 minutes for a good minister to clear his throat, so I hope I can keep it under that. Black Wealth, White Wealth was really written in a context in which we were looking at Black inequality from a perspective where we focused on the behaviors of Black, especially inner-city residents, and those behaviors were seen as responsible for their disadvantage. I wrote Black Wealth, White Wealth with Tom Shapiro to really try to shift our focus to understand the sources of racial inequality in a much different way, in a much more structural way. And it begins with a shift in perspective, a change in Gestalt.
Let me give you an example. Black families have about 83 cents for every dollar of income that whites have. That shows some disadvantage. But if you shift to wealth, it’s 10 cents on the dollar. Now, that changes your mindset about what inequality is. It reveals a much deeper pattern of inequality that’s not present when you just focus on income. So that’s why at the time I wrote the book, I called it a new perspective, because people really weren’t talking about it that way. And really, the success of the book is reflected in the fact that today, it’s kind of one of the central ways we talk about racial inequality. And I think the reason why is because people weren’t focused on what wealth was. Income we easily understand, we get it weekly, or monthly. And as people say, it flows, it comes in your pocket and out of your pocket. But wealth or assets, you have to save those, you have to accumulate those. And they often come from inheritance, they come from the past, they’re passed down intergenerationally. So, when you have wealth, you have a command of resources that you can use to generate life chances, whether that’s education, buying a home, starting a business, having better health. And as we know, with the pandemic people have been living on their wealth, as opposed to their income. And that’s why we see so much poverty of want right now, because people don’t have necessarily the kind of wealth that can buffer that. So, when you look at wealth, you start looking at the accumulation of historical legacy, as well as contemporary issues. And that’s what Black Wealth, White Wealth does, it changes the perspective, it allows us to look at an indicator of inequality, and look at how it was developed, under what conditions, and how it continues to create what I call a sedimentation of inequality, a situation in which African Americans are sediment on the bottom of the social order, financially, because we’re not just talking about being middle class, because Blacks have a middle class that is based on income, whereby whites have a middle class that is based on income and wealth. And that makes for a very different structure. I’d love to talk about more of it but as you can tell, I will end up talking too much. So, I’m going to allow you to move on.
Julia Weber: Oh, no, that was excellent. And I think the way you break it down, even in this short amount of time, is an indication of also how well you set it out in the book itself. So again, I encourage people to pick it up if you haven’t read it, because it really is so well explained. And I also just want to know that it came out in 1995, so some time ago. But importantly, I think it was referenced in the 2014 landmark article on the Case for Reparations. You’re recently quoted in the Washington Post in a six-part series on George Floyd’s America. And just to put an even finer point on what you’ve already, I think indicated or suggested in your remarks, why is the book particularly relevant today, and what does it say about what we were talking about, systemic racial inequality in America? Can you speak a little bit more about that?
President Oliver: There’s been a little uptick recently in interest in wealth. And I believe that’s because the kind of articulation of wealth in Black Wealth, White Wealth is one of the most well-known examples of systemic racism. Now, systemic racism emphasizes the importance of policy. I didn’t say this last time I talked, but you know, my book is focused on policy. Policy creates these differences, and policy sustains those differences. And this is the kind of book that really connects the policy decisions that were made in the past, and currently, and how it continues to perpetuate racial inequality. If you read Kendi’s hugely popular book on How to Be an Antiracist, he points out it’s about policy. So I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s still so relevant. Second, Angela and I have a common friend, John Powell. And John was the first scholar that I know who really focused on systemic racism. And we used to have a controversy about it because I argue that if you focus on systemic racism, you create such a complexity that it actually stops you, it kind of paralyzes you, from moving forward on what to do, because everything is tied up so much together, it’s hard to kind of get in there and untangle it.
I’ve been a pretty big critic of systemic racism as a concept that allows us to do anything. But John was the person that convinced me, and he convinced me by turning my own argument against me. “Melvin,” he said, “The key to dealing with systemic racism is to find the right entry point.” And he pointed out, wealth is one of those entry points to untangling systemic racism.
And lastly, since I published Black Wealth, White Wealth, many advocates, many activists, many policymakers have pursued this idea of closing the racial wealth gap. So that’s another reason why it’s been an issue of importance, because on the ground, people have now grasped it as something real and something we should address. And that’s really across an ideological spectrum. So the mantra of closing the racial wealth gap really coincides with this notion of systemic racism.
Julia Weber: You make excellent points, of course, and provided a nice segue into talking specifically about policy. And certainly in my work, we see often the law as both the challenge creating the problem, and also the opportunity, creating legal policies that can right the wrongs and address social inequality. And Angela, you founded PolicyLink in 1999. I wonder if you could speak a little bit about how all of these issues and the points that President Oliver has made relate to the work that you’re doing through PolicyLink as well.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Thank you, Julia. It’s a pleasure to be here, especially nice to be in a conversation with Melvin because his work has been so important in terms of getting us to the moment we’re in now, where I believe we have a real shot at having a breakthrough in terms of the impact of racism on opportunity and inclusion in the United States of America. And Black Wealth, White Wealth came at a very crucial moment that we were actually… Before that happened, a decade, I say before, we were at a point in this nation where when we were talking about race, we were talking about civil rights. And the civil rights activity had to do with voting, getting rid of discrimination in terms of hiring, and accommodations, those kinds of issues. And yet, we were seeing poverty among Black people get more entrenched, and really begin to raise serious concerns about what was the future for people who were Black in this country.
About that time we have William Julius Wilson lift it up to shine a bright light on it, and his work that came out in The Truly Disadvantaged, and it was highlighted by Bill Moyers in a primetime special on the vanishing Black family that actually took the issue and began to describe what people who were Black were feeling. And people who were white were dismissing it as all about behavior in the way people were acting. But what it was, was we were seeing persistent urban poverty, concentration of poverty, communities that were so neglected and so isolated, that there was something going on that we needed to get a handle on. That actually took us to a conversation not just about race and civil rights, but about race in place and what’s the dynamic of the two. About the time that people were starting to embrace race in place, which certainly has a lot of currency, because where you live in America is a proxy for opportunity. You tell me your zip code, and I can tell you way more about you, your prospects, including how long you’re going to live, than I ought to be able to, because of what happens in communities of concentrated neglected poverty. About the time we were all getting into that conversation and trying to develop the strategies, comes Black Wealth, White Wealth, that says, but why are people in those neighborhoods of concentrated poverty? Why is it that a house owned in those neighborhoods isn’t what it is for a white family owning a house in the suburbs? Why is it that people, even if they’re going to work every day, cannot begin to make it? And it was truly important to be able to add wealth, race and place as we began to look at what is the formula for holding people back; breakthrough, breakthrough. And I think it is so important to make this point.
Because understanding alone does not change the circumstances. It takes activism, it takes agency, it takes being able to be an advocate for a different kind of policy, and being able to stay proximate to those who suffer most and to be able to bring forward their deep, unique, essential understanding of what are their lives like, what will it take to really change it, and to bring their voices and their wisdom into the change process. So the understanding about wealth and place actually got that kind of infrastructure behind it because of the work that Melvin did when he was at the Ford Foundation, that it didn’t just happen that we began to have a whole movement to focus on the racial wealth gap. He was able to fund the policy organizations, to build the networks, to begin to lay the groundwork, and that groundwork has paid off mightily, because now we have a sophisticated group of advocates who are connected to a strong base, who when they are raising the issues of the discrimination, systemic, structural, personal, that we all have to fight against, they are doing it with the organizational base, the capacity to communicate, the apparatus that it takes to be able to advance the movement. And all of these things are really essential, because this notion of looking back can just be a painful experience, or it can be a strategy for moving forward. And understanding how the country was founded, how Black people have been disadvantaged, how those disadvantages not just stay with Black people, but it’s Indigenous people, in Latinx people, in Asian people, and even white people who are suffering now. We began to see it with the opioid crisis, but that was just the tip of an iceberg. That shows you how a whole system has developed around an economic system that has locked too many people out.
Julia Weber: You’ve both done such a stellar job of really highlighting the importance of understanding history, too, in order to really be able to think strategically about what this moment means and how to move forward most effectively, too. So, I think that’s very important. And I’m also reminded of the, I participated in the Pitzer Shadowing Program over winter break and had the pleasure of having three Pitzer College students who are interested in learning about the work I do at Giffords Law Center, preventing gun violence. And a lot of our conversations were about, “Let me tell you where we were and how we got here,” and so me being inspired by their new ideas and questions and their vision for what needs to happen. And their willingness and enthusiasm to learn about the history that I’ve been part of and all these movements have been so critical to that. So, I just think that’s such an important point that you’ve both made.
I’d like to now turn to Pitzer itself. And last year following the killing of George Floyd, President Oliver, you created the Racial Justice Initiative or RJI. And could you speak a little bit more about that initiative? I know you’ve shared a bit about it already, or we’ve introduced it with the series, and how it really is focused on addressing issues of racial violence and inequality and relates to what we’re talking about here today.
President Oliver: Let me let me talk a little bit about that. When this event occurred, for a person like me, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, one of my early remembrances are the Hough riots. I grew up as a teenager; the Glenville riots. I came to LA and was a scholar doing work around the LA rebellion. It was a painful experience, to just see what was going on around the response to the police killings of so many unarmed African Americans. And I tried to think about what we could do. And Pitzer is already a school that looks at these issues intensely, and our students care about them intensely. But I thought that this was an opportunity for us to really drive some fruitful discussion, analysis, activism. And to do it in a way that’s Pitzer-like, I wanted us to think about new possibilities, new ways of organizing our society, new futures. And so, I announced that we were going to have this initiative where we would spend some concentrated time. And I asked Adrian Pantoja, our professor of Politics and Associate Dean at the College to chair a committee made up of Pitzer faculty and Pitzer students, who would kind of put together that kind of a program, and they did a great job. I knew I wanted to have panels and opportunities to hear from people outside of Pitzer, and we’ve done that.
We had a number of, I think about, four big events last year. One I chaired around activist scholars, and we had several on election themes. But you know, both big panels are good for stimulating thought, putting some things out there. But I was thinking, and the committee was thinking, we don’t want to lose this opportunity to institutionalize something, make something happen that is going to be here beyond the speeches and the panels and those things. So, I’m so excited by what this group has put together.
They’ve put together what they call four initiatives in motion; a curricular innovation initiative, a center programming initiative, a student activism research and art projects initiative, and an anti-racism and resources training and resources initiative. And they’re all designed to create something that’s going to be long lasting, that’s going to be a part of Pitzer going forward. Because one of the things we need to do is not just have an upheaval of anguish and concern when things happen, but to move forward when things happen. And these are our forward-looking things. So for the curriculum transformation, for example, we had a call for proposals from faculty to redo their courses to include racial justice and racial violence issues, and we have 32 courses funded. Now what I love about this initiative is that you know it’s going to happen in the sociology department, and that’s fine. I’d love my sociologists to do it. But I want to see it in economics. I want to see it in art. I want to see it in math. I want to see it in science so we have those kinds of courses in our curriculum.
Innovation, the student activism research and art projects, once again, this is where we can be creative. Our art galleries have a just fantastic program of manifestos, Eight Minutes and Forty-Six Seconds. These are manifestos that students write around issues of racial violence and racial inequality that go with that eight minute and 46 seconds, that George Floyd had the knee around the throat, and we’re having exhibitions. Really, really cool, cool stuff.
Our center programming we have from our Community Engagement Center, racial and healing justice. Now one of the things that’s long lasting is we have to be long lasting in being activists in this struggle; it’s hard. We need sustenance from people who’ve been there, and we need strategies for how we can do it. And that’s what this racial and healing justice does, gives our students those kind of models, those kinds of strategies, so they can be long-term participants in the social justice struggle. And anti-racism training and resources, our Writing Center and Community Engagement Center and Asian Pacific American Study Center are collaborating on a series of trainings for students in getting to the core; self-systems and oppression, vision and action. So, I’m just over the top around this initiative. It’s Pitzer-esque. And I think it’s going to leave a legacy. We’re going to have something here for years to come. Thank you.
Julia Weber: It’s so powerful. Thank you so much for the description. And Angela, I know you’ve asked this question: Can enough of us take action to reach herd immunity against racism and oppression? And I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit to this question about programs like RJI at Pitzer, are they one way or one of the ways that we can build herd immunity and what additional actions on top of what’s been shared might we take?
Angela Glover Blackwell: The Racial Justice Initiative is exactly the kind of thing that gets to enough of us. And I think it is so important to understand that that’s really all we need is enough of us to move in the right direction to embrace a new vision. Enough of us is probably a huge number, because we are a huge country. But what is so magnificent about the moment that we’re in is that so many people are seeing that we can’t run away from race anymore. The only way to deal with is to go right through it. And when Melvin was talking earlier about his back and forth with John Powell, and I loved hearing Melvin say, “And I evolved to a different point,” because that’s what we all have to be willing to admit, that we are evolving.
When I first started PolicyLink in 1999, we talked about advancing economic and social justice, because in 1999, nobody wanted to talk about race. And so we said social rather than race. But the moment we realized that we were getting to a point where we would talk about race, we said what it was. We now say, “advancing racial and economic equity,” because that is really it. And maybe 10 years from now we’ll have an even better way to talk about it. But when Melvin said that he began to embrace that, we could do systemic racism as our frame, if we had an entry point. We’re now at a point where we have so many entry points, just as he talked about in terms of the Racial Justice Initiative, putting something in place that will have the ability to change and become more flexible, it will stay there and be there for the future. That’s exactly what’s happening in this moment. Every entity, every sector is asking, how do we take advantage of this moment?
Some of you may have seen an op-ed that I did in the New York Times with Michael McAfee, saying that banks needed to face history and pay reparations, and we called out the historical engagement of banking in slavery. I mean, how did those plantations buy all those slaves? They had banking loans, and how did they secure those loans? With slaves. And what happened when they defaulted? The slaves were sold to pay off. Banking had a role. Banking also had a role as Black people began to flee the South because of lynching, because of horrors that were going on. And when they went to Chicago and New York and Detroit and St. Louis, and other places, they found opportunity blocked. They had more skill than anybody in the nation, they basically built the nation. But yet they couldn’t get loans to start businesses because banks blocked it. They couldn’t buy homes because banks blocked it. And in that article, we call for, get rid of, forgive Black debt. Well, that was radical and out there and shocking.
The very next week, my co-author got invited to present to the Business Roundtable. And I said to him, this is either because of the op-ed, or in spite of it. And either way, it’s a good thing. Banks are embracing that conversation, some are stepping into it, the Biden administration is not just saying that they want to advance racial equity. The first executive orders, among the first orders that the President signed, one had to do with advancing racial equity within every aspect of government, and all agencies doing an audit, and then coming up with a plan to make sure that they were getting rid of things that were having a detrimental impact, and putting things in place in advance racial equity. And so things that a decade, I wouldn’t have thought possible, are now becoming commonplace. And in this setting, it’s the time where we all have to step in and bring what I call our radical imaginations, because the nation was never designed to be inclusive. And so we have to redesign our institutions, our agencies, we have a multiracial democracy now. And it’s only a democracy that works in the context of difference, that we can stand on a world stage and be proud of it. Now that we are moving into a multiracial democracy, we have to learn how to govern in a way that advances racial equity, we have to put policies in place, and we have to figure out a way to hold ourselves to account for how are we doing, is it different, and how do we do even better.
Julia Weber: Beautifully said; on any of that, I could go into ask you a million more questions. And there’s just so much depth and so much to explore and so much opportunity again coming out of certainly too much pain and grief and loss and oppression, but tremendous opportunity. And along the lines of thinking about every aspect of our society needing to and undertaking these important questions, last fall, President Oliver, as you of course know, students from the Pitzer’s Black Student Union, BSU, sent a list of requests, requests they noted, echoed demands that had been made by Black students at The Claremont Colleges, stemming from the 1960s. And I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit about what they asked for and how Pitzer is responding?
President Oliver: Presidents today are used to kind of getting a letter that says, “we demand.” But I tell you, it was really nice to get a letter that said “suggestions.” And I told the BSU right away, I wrote back and said, “Hey, let’s talk! This is this is what I want. I want to have this conversation.” But this was a wonderful document that was substantive, that had very good suggestions. It pointed out weaknesses and problems. And it underscores really the difficulty that most institutions have with quote, “diversity and inclusion.” And that is, if you don’t wake up every day thinking about it, it will catch up with you and doing something about it. And Pitzer has policies in place that have not been fully used that can address some of these issues.
For example, students pointed out that Black faculty representation was not what it should be. And they pointed out that having a Black faculty member has a lot to do with the success of the student during their career. And I know that; you know that; we know that. But we haven’t yet been able to get the cohort of Black faculty at Pitzer that we want. Nevertheless, if you look at the last five hires, we’ve had two out of the five have been faculty that are Black.
We are behind, and we need to do something about it. So our Dean of Faculty met with the students, I met with the students, and the Dean of Faculty found policies that we have in place where hopefully next year, we can generate Black faculty on the tenure track, and the non-tenure track. We’d like to make everybody that we find that’s eligible a tenure track faculty member. It’s hard. But we can do that. And we want to do that. Another area that they’ve pointed out was the recruitment of Black students. Who doesn’t have a hard time recruiting students to apply and having very good students apply? Our problem is we don’t have enough resources to support all of the students who are accepted. And many of our students end up going to other places who had richer financial aid packages. So one of the things we need to do is convince the students to come to Pitzer. And we talked to the BSU and they made a suggestion: involve us more. So we have involved them more.
The other thing we’re doing is we’re making sure that our Admission and Student Affairs staff, when there are openings, that we’re going to pursue Black applicants, because we need to have Black faces for our students in those particularly student-facing areas.
The other thing they pointed out was more robust financial aid packages. That’s pretty hard for Pitzer. Pitzer gives 25% of their tuition monies for financial aid. It’s hard to generate resources when we’re so tuition-dependent. But what we need to do is to make sure that students understand their financial aid. Our students didn’t quite understand it because we weren’t being as responsive as we could to their interest in understanding, what it is I had? Because we don’t want students to get to the fourth year and you say, “Well, you’ve used all your financial aid money.” They say, “Wait a minute, I didn’t know anything about that.” So we have now made sure that we have small group and individual conversations with all financial aid students, so they understand, so by the time they get to the fourth year, they’re not in a position where they have used all of their financial aid resources.
Bias reduction on campus, students pointed out that happens when we have these issues of bias. And the Dean of Faculty, the Dean of Student Affairs, and the Vice President of Student Affairs, and our Diversity Committee have all committed to putting in place a bias system for cataloguing those and responding to the structural issues that they reflect.
These are responses that were worked out together, the students and the administration, and they reflect our values, and we want to be held accountable on those. We don’t want to just put them on paper, they look good on paper, we want to make sure they happen, and they will happen.
Julia Weber: And to just build on that, I would say I know, in my capacity with the Family Leadership Council, there’s a deep commitment to honoring those requests, supporting the good work you’ve described and taking a look at what can be done in terms of outreach to families, and being more inclusive and more representative of the perspectives and diversity of the community as well. So the influence has been far and wide in terms of the BSU’s contribution, so thank you, thank you for that and thank the students for that leadership and making those requests and helping to hold us accountable across the board.
So you’re both obviously in integral parts of the community. And I know, in my family when my student was making a decision about college and he had some options, he immediately knew when he visited Pitzer College that it was the right fit for him. And he had been asked to visit as part of the diversity program. That of course, the pandemic has made much more challenging. But it had been and will be again, a really important way to work with high school seniors who might be a good fit for the school and are from underrepresented racial, cultural, socio economic backgrounds.
I’m wondering if you could each, and maybe we’ll start with you, Angela, could say a little bit about how the core values and commitments that we uphold at Pitzer help support these efforts that we’ve been talking about. And in my view, why do we know we can do this at Pitzer? I think that would be interesting to hear some more about.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Well, Melvin could say more about it than I can. But from my perspective, as a trustee and a grandparent and somebody who is really impressed with what I see at Pitzer, we really are at a moment where we can model for the nation the kind of leadership it’s going to take to build the nation that we can have. And this is so important. Because we often think because of the way that move through the world, that it’s different from what it actually is, people think it’s what they see, they don’t actually know what it is. But we live in a nation, which for all purposes, is already majority people of color. And the reason I say that is even though it’ll be 2044 before the majority of the population in this country is of color, Latinx, Black, Asian, Indigenous, other, the majority of children 18 and under, are of color now. The majority of babies born in this country have been of color since the summer of 2012. The majority of the young workforce is of color now.
So that when you think about who’s having families, building community, solving problems, bringing forward innovation, the workforce that we’re going to be dependent on, the future of the nation, the fate of the nation, is dependent on the very people who have been disproportionately left behind. And in that group, there also is extraordinary strength and assets, that the United States of America has such a gift in a global economy of being a world nation, in which the population is connected through the world through language, through kinship, through custom, through friendship, and that is an extraordinary asset, but we have to invest in it.
And so as Pitzer thinks about its values of inclusion and justice, and caring and building a society in which all can feel that they can belong, those values are the values that leaders of tomorrow need. And they can only be developed within the context of difference. No matter how much you might embrace those values, if you’re not pursuing your education within the context of difference, you are not having the authentic, deep, nuanced relationship that will be essential for the future. So, I loved it when Melvin just described all of the things that are involved in terms of these values. I do a podcast called Radical Imagination. And the next one that’s going to come up before this month is over, is looking at Tulsa, Oklahoma and what happened there so long ago, which a lot of people know about because of the television show Watchmen, in which what used to be called the Black Wall Street in that area was destroyed by white people who just did not want Black people to be able to move forward.
The state of Oklahoma has developed a curriculum to have every child going through the school district starting at Grade Two learn about the Tulsa massacre. That is so extraordinary for those Black children, but it is extraordinary for all of those children. Because as they grow up and learn, they’re more comfortable, they’re more informed, they’re more positioned to be able to understand the world in which they operate. The same is true in terms of the college experience, the same is true in terms of learning, law, and medicine and environment, whatever it is. And so these values hits the positions itself to be able to live into them, really shows what it is that we need in terms of leadership and how to be able to invest in it at an early age, and to have people understand that the future, the future belongs to those who know how to lead from an outsider perspective. Because if you think of yourself as an outsider, you don’t assume that you can make the future what you want it to be. You have to listen to others, you have to learn from others, you have to find that common ground and that uncommon common ground that allows you to be able to actually live and lead for the collective. And that’s where I think the Pitzer values are taking these young people.
Julia Weber: I love it. I love it. President Oliver, what else? What do you think we need, how we could do this?
President Oliver: Well, you know, Angela and I go back a while and she has left me speechless, because she described all of our core values without mentioning one. Because taken together, they lead you to that position where you are not the center of the universe. But you realize that you have to lead as not the leader, but as the learner. And that’s what I think we try to do at Pitzer, realize that knowledge is multifaceted. You have to connect the dots, you just can’t go with one way, that you have to understand the ecological connections that bind us and differentiate us. And that you have to take social responsibility for what you do and what you don’t do. So, I think we are in a position to create the kinds of leaders for a multiracial democracy, which we are in the midst of right now.
Julia Weber: You both have just covered so much, and I think really highlighted so much of what our community has to offer, and the willingness to engage in this very important necessary work. And we are close to getting to the end of our time together. Our motto, Pitzer’s motto, is Provida Futuri, Mindful of the Future. And I’m just wondering if we could close with some thoughts about what gives you hope that this systemic change is possible. Obviously, you’ve just both touched on some ways that that can happen and some core values in our community that can support that effort. But maybe you can share a little bit about what gives you hope as we move forward.
Angela Glover Blackwell: I’ll go first so we can end with the President. I am extremely hopeful. And it’s easy to be hopeful right now, I think I’m always hopeful. But it’s easy to be hopeful right now. Because despite the fact that there’s so much hate right in this moment, it clearly is the last gasp of something that is going away. A last gasp can be long and shrill and dangerous, but it is the last. And the future is what we’re all about. And so many amazing people with money, and power and influence and knowledge are leaning in to see how they can use all of that to create belonging, and a future in which all can reach their full potential. And there’s a growing understanding that until we invest in those who are most marginalized, targeted, discriminated against and vulnerable, we will never be able to fully unleash the promise of this nation. That by getting it right for those who are most vulnerable, we create a circumstance in which the benefits can cascade to all. That’s the world that I’m operating in right now, and I never expected to be doing that. I’m very excited.
Julia Weber: Excellent. Thank you. President Oliver? Any closing remarks about the hope you have going forward to address?
President Oliver: I’m one of those people steeped in my father’s religion. I’m not a religious person, but I’m steeped in my father’s religion. And I’m so happy that I am because he was the kind of person that always looked at the world in hopeful ways. I used to say, “I hate that person.” My father would say “No, don’t hate that person. You hate their ways; you hate their ways.” And so, in this world in which we can look at all the things that Angela said that that are hateful and evil right now, it’s not the people, it’s the ways. And I have always gotten sustenance, at a personal level, from the people around me. And being at a place like Pitzer, being at a place like The Claremont Colleges, I will say, we have that herd immunity that Angela was talking about.
And the fact that we can withstand the pain and the suffering that we’re going through now, and the fact that we are going to come out, on the other hand, more powerful, more ready to take on the challenges that we’re facing, that’s what gives me confidence.
Julia Weber: Thank you both so much, just so inspiring and such important information. I’m ready to keep going with this important work. And again, as I referenced in talking with the students, that I had the pleasure of working with over that winter program, relationships, as you mentioned, connection to other people. And we all have these connections that we came upon through Pitzer, we came to the community in different ways, the three of us just in this discussion. I think it’s such an important message about who we surround ourselves with, how we build community and how important that is in terms of taking those next steps moving forward, now and throughout our careers, throughout our lives. Thank you so much for kicking off this series with such a fabulous discussion.
This is the beginning of the True Equity series, all the sessions will be recorded. We hope you will all follow along through [email protected], where the sessions will be posted. Or tune in live if you can. So, thank you both. Thank you so much, Angela. Thank you, President Oliver. Stay well, stay safe. And please, of course, keep up the good work and I look forward to continuing to engage with you and our community. Thank you.