The culminating conversation of our 2021 True Equity series: Beyond Solidarity: Awareness, Accountability, and Action explored pathways forward that reach beyond rhetoric and are steeped in sustainable change.
Held on November 16, 2021, this intergenerational discussion brought together President Melvin L. Oliver, Trustee and PolicyLink Founder Angela Glover Blackwell, and representatives from across the Pitzer community. The panel participants included:
- Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College President
- Angela Glover Blackwell, Pitzer College Trustee
- Jacqui Campos-Araujo ’23, Latinx Student Union Co-President
- Derric J. Johnson ’95, Alumni Board Member
- Paris Primm ’22, Black Student Union President
- Julia Weber P’23, Family Leadership Council Member
Moderated by Executive Director of Alumni & Family Engagement and Annual Giving Brandon Kyle.
Brandon Kyle: If we can go ahead and kick things off. Well, first and foremost, greetings everyone and welcome to our fourth and final installment of the 2021 True Equity conversation series. It is such a pleasure to be with you all this evening. My name is Brandon Kyle and I’m the Executive Director of Alumni and Family Engagement and Annual Giving here at Pitzer College. And again, thank you so much for joining us.
As I mentioned, tonight is the culmination of the four unique conversations about systemic racial injustice, lived experiences, community coalitions, and fundamental change at Pitzer College, and in the US. This series was initiated by the College by the Office of College Advancement and Communications at Pitzer College. It was in response to President Oliver’s Racial Justice Initiative and our shared desire to create equity throughout our institution in our lifetimes. True Equity Part One actually launched over Family Weekend of this year, and discussed systemic change with the reflective conversation about the racial wealth gap, Pitzer’s Racial Justice Initiative and the need for radical imagination to create a multiracial democracy. True Equity Part Two, “Color in the Ivory Tower,” examined a frank conversation about the state of diversity at Pitzer College and higher education. It was led by members of Pitzer College faculty, and moderated by Associate Dean and Professor Adrian Pantoja. True Equity Part Three, entitled “Our Stories: Pitzer’s Inaugural Black Alumni Caucus,” which highlighted lived experiences of Black students, now alumni, parts of the College and actionable next steps for holding our core values through accountability, community and resolution to create equity for the next generation.
And now tonight, we bring to you Part Four of the series entitled “Beyond Solidarity: Awareness, Accountability, and Action.” This conversation was for pathways forward that reach beyond just rhetoric and are steeped in sustainable change. This important conversation or for this important discussion rather, our panelists for tonight include a return of many of our panelists from the first three segments and include the following: of course, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver; Angela Blackwell, Pitzer College trustee and founder of Policy Link; Jacqui Campos-Araujo, co-president of the Latinx Student Union and member of the Class of 2023; Derrick Johnson, class of ’95, Alumni Board member, and director of the Crossroads for Equity and Justice Institute; Paris Primm, president of the Black Student Union and class of 2022 (my goodness), and Julia Webber, parent, class of ‘23, Family Leadership Council member, and consultant and implementation director of the Giffords Law Center. I am so honored to be able to bring this panel together and to share this with our community and look forward to where tonight’s discussion will lead us. My intention for tonight’s discussion is to highlight the importance of equity and inclusion within our community, but to also shine a spotlight on where we can go as a collective in pursuit of advancing the very core values that we believe in.
With that said, I think a good place to start is actually from the very beginning. So, President Oliver, this question goes to you, but I want to give a little bit of context before we get into that. So, during our first True Equity event, “Systemic Change” in February, you said one of the goals of the Racial Justice Initiative was to quote, “Institutionalize something, make something happen that is going to be here beyond the speeches,” you said, and I quote again, “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.” In many ways, those words sum up the idea behind this fourth part of the series, “Beyond Solidarity: Awareness, Accountability, and Action.” Could you speak a little bit about why you think it is so important to move forward and institutionalize change before, during and after issues related to racial injustice into our community?
President Melvin L. Oliver: Thank you for that question, Brandon. I think it’s crystal clear that we can, of course, have a lot of discussion and talk about doing things, but unless we put ourselves on the path to making identifiable concrete change, you know, talk is cheap. And we’ve had some opportunity to go beyond talk since the events surrounding the killings, police killings and my announcement of this initiative. Our Black Student Union, Latinx Student Union, they brought forth to us genuine issues, issues that we have tried to address. And I would say that we have been mixed in responding to those. That’s not a grade of mixed, but it is just what’s reality. These are hard things to do and sometimes they take a great deal of time and effort. The first thing we have to do is recognize that a problem is there. And I think part of having these conversations is educating people about those problems, making them aware of them. And certainly, the Black Student Union and Latinx Student Union have helped the campus do that. But we also have to know what the root causes are. And once we know that, we generate the political will on campus to do something about it, and then come up with a strategy that can address it. I think we’re mixed in where we’re at in those things. Sometimes we identify a problem, but we don’t have a good sense of what the strategy is for dealing with it. Other times we identify a problem, we understand the root cause, but we don’t have the necessary or sufficient political will or empathy to do it. If we empathize with this problem, we will go towards strategy. And then we can do all these things, and strategy can be wrong. We can be at the point where we don’t get the results that we want, and we have to kind of, you know, reconsider where we’re at and go forward. So I think just as in society as a whole, Pitzer College has that kind of mixed set of results.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much for that. Angela, this question is actually geared toward you. During that initial conversation, Part One of the True Equity series, you mentioned that people are realizing now more than ever, that we can’t run away from race, and that the only way to deal with it is to go right through it. You mentioned and I quote, “We’re now at a point where we have so many entry points, similar to the Racial Justice Initiative, putting something in place that will have the ability to change and become more flexible over time.” My question to you this evening is, when you’re starting from what feels like the beginning of your journey, what would you say are some of those important entry points for creating systemic change? And what advice would you give to students or other community members who may be struggling in the interim?
Angela Glover: Hmm. It’s always so funny, too, when people tell me something that I’ve said, because I never remember saying it, but I like that. I like that idea of entry points, because there really are multiple entry points and they really come to us all a sudden. I was telling somebody the other day that I had been doing this work for so long, that I had become chronically patient. You know, that I had developed patience as a way to be effective, but somehow that patience had just settled in. And I was startled and awakened by the Black Lives Matter response in the summer of 2020. And what I found, once I really said we don’t need to be patient anymore, is that those entry points were being used, being crowded in terms of people trying to come in. And there’s really no particular entry point now. Not only can you enter from any place, but you must enter from wherever you’re saying. There is nothing that doesn’t have something to do with race in this nation and if you are doing anything, just look around and get started. And so you don’t need to guide people in. We probably do need a little guidance for people in terms of how to be effective, because some people just come in screaming, and I get the screams. I mean, that’s why I became chronically patient. I couldn’t have lasted if I had left out what I had been feeling all along. But somewhere in the middle is the being aware, being outraged, being determined to act and then having a plan for action that allows you to be able to be more strategic, to have strategic patience, not chronic patience, but strategic patience as you’re moving from one place to another. So when you say how people enter, everybody has to enter. If you had haven’t entered, you’re not dealing in tomorrow, you’re barely dealing in today. But as we enter, we need to have commitment, as Melvin was just saying, about accomplishing something, being able to look back and check a few boxes, and you need to have a style and an approach to accomplish that.
Brandon Kyle: You’re really patient. Thank you so much. Our next question is for Julia: As a member of the Family Leadership Council, and in the work that you do in PolicyLink (?) that you produce, both professionally and personally around equity and advocacy outside of community, you and Derric both have been able to spearhead this important series of conversations resulting in increased awareness. During those conversations, one of the things that you highlighted, you shed light on was the importance of allyship and doing the work necessary to be active parts of the solution versus sort of input in name only. From your perspective, what is the difference between true allyship and performative allyship? And how can we as a community hold ourselves accountable?
Julia Weber: Well, thank you for another great question, Brandon. And it’s a pleasure and an honor to be here today. You know, in terms of entry points, and in reference to your question, I would just say, you know, I come to this discussion. As you know, first a parent of a student of color, who was warmly welcomed to the Pitzer community as a prospective student and has found wonderful community there and is thriving at Pitzer College. And because of that, I’m part of the extended Pitzer community and a member of the Family Leadership Council the committee. I also come to this as a white woman who believes that white folks have a key role to play in dismantling racism. And that means doing whatever I can in all of the different communities I’m a part of, which includes Pitzer College. And then also I work as an adjunct professor and former lecturer at another university, and I’ve spent a lot of time on campuses. And I have a deep appreciation for what makes Pitzer College unique and special. And part of that is what President Oliver, you shared early on just being able to say, we have a mixed response and approach, that’s an educational opportunity to learn what we could do better, to make that kind of commitment, to make ourselves vulnerable around those issues. And I think that’s one of the many ways that we can be working collaboratively, those of us who don’t have lived experiences of direct racism are still living in a society, a community that is diminished by the reality of racism. And it behooves all of us to be real about that, to recognize where we may benefit from some of it, be willing to unpack that, let go of some of that, of much of it, and, take the steps we can take to counteract structural racism. And so that means being real, learning about your position in the system, where you benefit, where you might have resources that you can bring to bear to be the kind of change we want to see in the world, and being willing to step up and take those kinds actions. And sometimes that might be hard. We all have sort of romantic ideals of how we want our country to be, how we might have thought it was. I think much has been revealed to people who may not have been as clued in about what we’re living with in this country, certainly in the last few years. And my hope would be that a real allyship would develop out of that, as opposed to just giving lip service. And I appreciate being part of an educational environment where I think that’s where it can happen, that we want to be genuine, we want to learn, we want to do that without harming other people that we don’t learn at the expense of others. So it’s not just about sharing differing points of view. There are points of view that do harm and we need to be real about that, too. So I think a lot of it is being genuine, becoming informed, looking at how oneself fits into the system and then being able to take the next steps. So the actions that are necessary depending on what our entry points are and what we bring to the conversation.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much, Julia. So, we’ll shift gears a little bit now that we kind of want to create some space for, to hear a little bit from our students here on the call today. Jacqui, this question is geared toward you. So nearly a year apart, the glaring similarities of the two statements released to the community from the Black Student Union and the Latinx Student Union, showcase two segments of our community that were seeking support, security and the core values promised to them as prospective students. From your perspective, what stands out to you the most about the calls to action presented by the Latinx Student Union? And from your position as co-president, what would you say are the main points of that important communication that you’d like for people to remember?
Jacqui Campos-Araujo: Yeah, thank you, Brandon, for the question. And I’m so honored to be here, a part of these panelists. And yes, one of the things that stood out to me from my both statements is the part where we asked to speak and have a conversation with President Oliver and like the community, the leadership at Pitzer College. And I think that stood out to me because I feel like, yes, we should have these conversations, but a lot of these conversations come after incidents that just happen. And I feel like one of the biggest things that could, for a step forward, is having these conversations prior to incidents. So we, I feel like having these conversations would have a bigger impact in creating a safe space for us to be able to talk about what had happened. And I think that would, that’s one thing that really stood out to me from both statements. And I really appreciate that we had the capability to talk with President Oliver and having that conversation really helped us understand and collaborating and working together to see what are the steps to create a safe environment. But I think one of the things is having those conversations prior to these incidents.
Brandon Kyle: The ability to be proactive.
Jacqui Campos-Araujo: Yes, as the co-president of LSU, one of the things when this incident happened on campus, Ivette Torres, the other LSU president, we were both, you know, when we were here; the last time we were at Pitzer was our freshman year. So coming as juniors now that we haven’t been on campus for a while, and having this incident and like the position that we hold, obviously, we had to bring a statement out. But we looked at each other and we had no idea what to say or what to do and how to speak for the whole club itself, so that was very difficult. But at the same time, I’m glad that we were able to have that conversation with President Oliver after
Brandon Kyle: We support you; thank you so much.
Paris, shift gears to you; a little bit during Part Three of True Equity, which you participated in as a panelist, you talked about joining BSU early on in your college career and how important it was creating your own space and community as well as being able to connect with the Office of Black Student Affairs and other Black student organizations within the Claremont consortium, you call BSU, quote, your “safe haven.” Can you talk a little bit about the role BSU was playing during your time at Pitzer and also share some ideas about the ways that the College can maybe create more campus-wide, more of a campus-wide sense of belonging.
Paris Primm: Thank you, Brandon, for the question. I’m really excited and honored to be here as well. BSU has definitely always been a safe haven for me. First year we are right here. In our space, I did join the BSU and also like our exec board my first year. And I’ve been working, I’ve been organizing since my first year and I’m very honored to serve as president right now. So, seeing a lot of things happen across campus, but I’ve always known I can always come in here, be within a community outside of our institution. So that’s always been amazing. And being in the BSU was also like such an integral part to my academic experience as well, and definitely influenced me becoming an Africana Studies major, and also me completing my thesis on Black student organizing in Claremont. So, this definitely, it’s highly influential to my experience as a whole here and I think one way Pitzer can create a better sense of belonging is definitely even beginning in orientation. Whereas I’ve been an orientation leader as well, it’s always fun. It’s always kind of like, oh, we have one diversity and inclusion activity, or there could be one activity around Identity Board, it’s always kind of one thing. There’s just one thing that’s here, but how can we like for instance, just for example, orientation programs like creating core, several programs towards interacting with your affinity groups in your spaces as a first year instead of waiting? Until trying to figure out when is the time be highlighted? Towards secret mark… (I just got the “This is unstable message”) It went through.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you, Paris. I will also just share that both Paris and Jacqui are probably two of the most busy, incredible students I’ve had the honor of working with. So again, just thank you both for being here this evening.
So, we’ll shift gears here a little bit from our alumnus perspective. Derric, this question is geared toward you. So, during Part Three of our True Equity conversation, we hosted PItzer inaugural Black Alumni Caucus conversation which presented intergenerational conversations about the lived experiences of Black students, now alums of Pitzer College. As an alumnus of the class of 95, who dealt with similar experiences of racial injustice, what do you find most challenging to still process about what students of color are still facing today? And what advice would you give to students who feel exhausted from having to be both activists and educators while also being students? How do they find their support systems?
Derric Johnson: Well, first, I want to give flowers to everyone who’s here tonight and engaged in this conversation. Again, your commitment and leadership to advance these issues and actually have this dialogue is critical. I think that that actually links to a portion of what you just asked, Brandon, about being present, about being responsive and accountable, and hold an institution like Pitzer to task, holding them up to the principles of what it takes to educate young leaders and to make sure that there are mechanisms in place where folks are receiving the supports that they need in order to matriculate into adulthood and to the leaders of tomorrow. So, I think the correlation of maybe, let me just first say, I got into this whole project because I had come, it was couple of years ago, I think we it was a Family Weekend, this is before the world imploded, and COVID had everything shut down. But I was on campus just walking around. And personally, I hadn’t been on campus in probably 20 plus years, right, because of my own lived experience on campus, and the things that we fought for. So, it was almost, it was almost like revisiting a place of trauma, right? And so, it was interesting to run into a group of students who one, thought I was a parent, and I was there visiting a student there who happened to be my child, but I was not. And then they were really shocked and enamored by the fact that there was somebody who was African American, who actually was a student there that was on campus, because I think that the pipeline for the current students in terms of getting future leaders tomorrow to be linked with alumni who had essentially been on campus and had that lived experience, those mechanisms of communication had been fragmented. And so, what struck me was the fact that, you know, some odd years ago when I was a student there, we were having these same conversations about who do we connect with? What are our networks? Who do we align with? Who do we go to for guidance? If we were looking to try to get jobs, who specifically were those pipeline access points for us to gain experience internships, that whole deal? And it was striking that we were having some of the same conversation, I was having some of the same conversations with students that me and my classmates were having back in the 90s. And so, one of the things that was appealing to me about these conversations and, again, kudos and shout out to President Oliver for elevating this as the focal point for what the institution is looking to do to try to address those issues, is to be proximate and actually be engaged in the conversations and to make myself available and tie into the Black Alumni network that exists that also is not connected to the institution.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you. Julia, this question is for you. In our first conversation, you spoke about the importance of understanding history, quote, “in order to really be able to think strategically about what this moment means, and how to move forward most effectively.” My question to you this evening is what advice would you give to students or other community members about the importance of understanding both the history of our institution and our society?
Julia Weber: Well, I would certainly say, institutionally, I think the series has been invaluable in terms of hearing from Derric and the alums, for example, and hearing from the students about their current experience, but also going back and looking historically. What’s changed, what hasn’t, why things haven’t changed, what we can do about that? That’s very informative, I think, and then similarly, I thought the faculty conversation was very informative, thinking about what has come before this moment. And you know, as an activist, I think, I have benefited enormously from people who did the work long before I showed up, understanding what challenges they encountered, the strategies that they developed; I always enjoy when we have interns or new folks coming into the organization where I work. I like to sit down with them and talk about what social movements, what experiences that were going on in the broader world led them to social justice work. I end up talking a lot about growing up in the 70s, the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the AIDS crisis, efforts to address LGBTQ+ rights, [unintelligible], they often talk about experiences with school violence, and as I work in the gun violence prevention world, and, just different experiences that led them, much more, greater attention to issues related to police misconduct, for example. So, in having those conversations, we can learn a lot about the perspective that people bring, and also strategies; what works, what doesn’t work. And we can get very creative, which I think is an important part of it. We need that patience that Angela, you talked about, that I think can develop over time. We also need the feeling of immediacy that I think students often bring to these issues that this has to happen now; I’m here for a limited period of time, and I want to make a difference in my community. And we can get some perspective on, we’re not alone; there’s a whole history of folks who have come before and have stood up and made the world better in many ways for us. So that’s also inspiring; you can get very frustrated, but there are plenty of examples of folks who have come before in history that I think really can lend itself to inspiration. I think that’s important too. And I also would say I want to counteract the notion of immediacy at the same time; that this isn’t all going to be fixed tomorrow, we’re not going to have a solution by the end of this conversation for the issues that we’re dealing with. But we can do more to strengthen our community. And I do see that as a role for family members to hear, which is strengthening the community for our individual students, for their peers now and then for the future. Because the more we can do in this moment, we can change what that history looks like in the future, too; right? So, I just think that’s really important and that will make the institution stronger overall.
Brandon Kyle: Perspectives move us forward; absolutely.
So, President Oliver, this next question is for you. So now nearly a year and a half ago, a year and a half after the launch of the Racial Justice Initiative back in May of 2020, under the leadership of Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty Adrian Pantoja, we’ve not only seen the creation of resources, more than 40 speaker events and high-profile lectures, but also the creation of over two dozen courses funded by RJI after the call for proposals from faculty to create or redo their courses to include racial justice, and racial violence issues, courses ranging from sociology to economics. From your perspective, how have those new and redesigned courses, now a part of the curriculum, help infuse racial justice throughout the college? And what are you most proud a little over a year after launching RJI? (You’re on mute.)
Melvin Oliver: I’ll go back to my original comments is that you need to have a sense of what the problems are and awareness of the problems. The integration of issues of racism, violence, into the curriculum forms a basis for our students to have a good grasp of these issues, understanding those problems. It creates the opportunity for dialogue among different groups with different experiences. It creates the opportunity for students who are steeped in those issues in a lived way, to have a perspective, a set of conceptual tools to understand it. For those students who don’t live or don’t have those lived experiences, they can form the kind of empathy that creates a need to be an ally, a need to be engaged. So I think it’s really important to have those kinds of courses in the curriculum. It’s very interesting that in the 60s, the academy was kind of forced to make Black Studies, Latinx Studies, Women’s Studies, a part of the curriculum. And one of the things that happened which I saw as an academic in that time, is that all sorts of generative ideas and conceptual apparatus came out of those intellectual movements, and were integrated into the regular curriculum, that it became the general curriculum, became so infused with the kind of concepts and tools of Black Studies, Latinx Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, that there was a sense that we had done the job of integrating these kinds of experiences into the academy. Yet we see in 2020 the demand to have that more infused into the curriculum. So this is a kind of way to give a booster shot, so to speak, to what we had thought we had won in the 60s and 70s into the curriculum. And our faculty, of course, responded, I think, very, very strongly to that kind of booster. And I think our students are going to have a great benefit from that change in the curriculum. And that’s what I’m most proud of.
Brandon Kyle: As a community member, I’m proud of that, too, just looking over the courses that are listed just in the spring semester alone, just incredible. So I’m really happy to see all the vibrancy coming out of that initiative. So thank you so much for sharing that.
Angela, this question. Next question is geared to you. So one of the many, many highlights of that initial discussion during Part One, were your comments on a multiracial democracy, you shared, quote, “We have to learn how to govern in a way that advances racial equity, we have to put policies in place, we have to figure out how to hold ourselves to account for how we are doing, is it different? And how do we even do better? With that in mind, when progress is made, how can we continue to assess and measure the impact of the initiatives that we’ve undertaken?”
Angela Glover: Mmm, that’s a good question. How do we know whether or not we’re really making progress? I think that that is our obligation, all of us who think that we have leaned into this moment of racial reckoning and we’re stretching it into a transformative movement. We need to have some benchmarks. We need to have some measurements. When I said I had become chronically patient, that was not a good thing. During that period of patience, I, with lots of colleagues across the country, sometimes across the world, we’re developing things. We were developing theories, language, tools, measurements, data sets, we were just heads down because we knew it needed to happen. The surprise is that the demand for it came so quickly, such a vast array of institutions and people asking for it. That’s what made me see that the patience that it took during times of outrageous oppression and suffering, just to put your head down and create what you knew was going to be needed if ever the country woke up to the fact, and then it woke up all of a sudden. In that waking up, what I recognized is that we have to now be impatient, because time is running out. There was a time when we had time, but we don’t have time anymore. Because democracy is under threat, the planet is under threat, the ability to be able to govern is being questioned. And in this moment, I think this is when you have to lead, and those who see a future have to own their capacity and unique ability to birth that future.
What I’m about to say I think is controversial. It’s controversial to friends, because I have so many friends, young friends, who are using the language of liberation. I came out of college into the Black Power movement, to the language of liberation. And I question whether liberation is the language of today. I think that that notion of liberation misses the moment, this is not the moment to figure out how to break free, this is the moment to own your leadership and be free to lead. Because what the nation needs is exactly what people who have felt marginalized have developed. Because if you feel like an outsider, and if you had been made to feel like an outsider, and you have figured out ways to move forward, you have a special quality that the nation and the world will need going forward. Because there’s no longer going to be the ability to just lead based on your race or your gender. Leadership is going to come because we’re listening differently, we’re finding uncommon-common ground, we’re working out how to lead from the place of those who have been discriminated against and marginalized, that not until we solve those problems will we unleash the talent that the nation will be dependent on going forward. And so, I’m asking myself these questions. And so, what I say to your question about measurement is we need to see who are the leaders, how are the leaders seeing their role, how are they being accepted? Have we developed followership in this nation? We can see right now the angst that we’re experiencing is that nearly half the nation refuses to follow people of color. They refuse to follow people of color because of this hierarchy of human value and because of insecurity. And only when we realize that the very people who have been discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed, and made vulnerable have within them the capacity that it’s going to take to perfect the union, to get it be more perfect. That very language was about this moment, and now here we are.
Brandon Kyle: Sometimes I forget I’m not an audience member. Thank you so much with that. It’s so incredibly powerful. I think it speaks volumes to how we can hold people accountable. And I also want to say that you are in a safe space to be controversial. Those comments are always welcome here. Thank you.
Angela Glover: They’re controversial because I’m still working them out, but I thought I would share them because someone will know where to take them.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you. So, the next question here we have is directed actually back to Julia. So, from your vantage point as a current parent and as a representative of the Family Association and Leadership Council, you are often asked how families can participate in building a more inclusive community that affords all students the opportunity to thrive. In essence, my question to you is what role do you think that families and parents can play in creating societal change for a more inclusive environment?
Julia Weber: Well, you know, certainly families play an important role vis a vis the individual or individuals that they are supporting through the college experience. And so, I value that and want to honor that because they’re an important part of the extended network for many of our students. And I also want to say something that is sometimes controversial, which is the idea that, I know when I became a parent, it felt as though I had permission to care only about my child. And that was not okay with me, because I believe as a community member, I have a responsibility to our children, and to our young people. And I felt that way then, and that meant sometimes having to think very carefully about yes, what might be good for my son, but also what this means for the larger community, and to do that at the same time. And so I feel as though one thing we can do is not only focus on the individual that we might be associated with, but to also be thinking about the larger community and to bringing whatever resources we have to bear to this wonderful Pitzer community, and to continue to strengthen it, to improve it, to be willing to criticize, speak up, make change. So that may be financial resources, but it may also be networking, internships, be available to talk with student groups about some of the questions that Jacqui and Paris, you’ve raised, writing statements, talking about history and strategy, talking about context.
I think there are so many different things that our broader Pitzer family community can bring to bear in this conversation that can support our students and the institution and staff. I’ve been so honored to work so closely with you, Brandon, and other staff, there’s so much value in this community. So for me, I get an enormous benefit from being more active than I originally thought I would be. When it was time to go to college, I didn’t think I’d be as involved. But I have to say it’s been incredibly rewarding because I see how much the institution can benefit from family involvement through the ways I’ve named: internships, mentoring, networking, having conversations, reflecting your own students’ experience, sharing that information, learning about other students’ experiences. And then I think in the end, for those students who might be struggling, being able to be familiar with resources and support them, accessing those resources so that they can learn through that process that there really is a community there to support them. So, I just see many different ways that we can all be involved, depending on what we have to offer and what we’re up for.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much, Julie. Derric, similar question to you: As an alumnus and board member and involved member of the Pitzer community, what role can alumni play in creating change and building community with individuals who may have encountered similar experiences? In your opinion, what other responsibility do other alumni have to reach back and pay forward for current and future generations of Pitzer students?
Derric Johnson: I’m going to reverse the question a little bit and talk specifically about the institution itself. The alumni can’t engage unless the institution makes communication and a network that is targeted to bring alumni into space. And it’s not until alumni feel a sense of inclusiveness, a sense of belonging, a connection with the institution. You frame out specific areas where folks can actually engage and be involved. The institution has to create a sense of continuity around what both the current students and the current experiences that they’re having, how that then aligns with the interests of former alumni. I think it’s those components, right, what is the school producing that creates a sense of synergy where folks who were previously connected with the institution are willing to reengage and reconnect? It’s not until then that you start having conversations about how the alumni can support and make themselves available to do more. As I stated before, you know, I’m connected with a ton of African American alumni from Pitzer who have not engaged with Pitzer since they left Pitzer, right? And so, there has to be a conversation about why that is; what’s been the landscape analysis and outreach strategies that have not taken place, and then what are the things that can be done to essentially do that level setting, and get people to recognize that there are opportunities to reengage and connect. I think it’s those conversations and this dialogue, and it’s looking at the reconstruction of the outputs that then put people in position of where they can then plug in.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you for that.
President Oliver, this next question is geared toward you. In our initial discussion, we had the pleasure of hearing, of course, from both you and Angela, and a dynamic, timely conversation focused on the need for radical imagination in the pursuit of a multiracial democracy. You mentioned that you wrote the book “Black Wealth, White Wealth” in 1995, with coauthor Thomas Shapiro, to really try to shift our focus to understand the sources of racial inequity in a much different way, in a much more structural way, and it begins with a shift in perspective. My question for you is, today, what do you see as one of the biggest assumptions people make about advancing equity and inclusion?
Melvin Oliver: I think there are a number of assumptions to make. I don’t know if I can say the biggest assumption, but I think that this is a fragmented answer because it’s fragmented; not everyone has the same assumptions. People go into it with different assumptions. I think there’s a segment of the population that sees the equity conversation, and they look at, what do I have to lose? And it’s this deal, equity means something is going to be taken away from me. And then as I pointed out, there are those people who either have lived experience or are empathetic to the experience of people of color and the disenfranchised, who see this as a way to create true equity in which you allow everyone to bloom to their fullest potential. Because you set the kind of framework that allows people to have their own expectation, or to get whatever their growth potential is. And then you have those who are just like fish in the ocean. They don’t see racism because it’s all around them, it’s like water, and they’re just going along with the stream. And so those I think, are the dominant assumptions, that they’re going to lose something, we’re going to create a greater equity, or we’re just floating in the stream, and I don’t even see racism. And, you know, we’re looking at a politics today in which recent elections show that there are quite a few in the first assumptions where race is becoming, as Angela said, something you cannot run away from, and these are the ways many people are seeing it. And so, it’s a fragmented view. Even though we have, I think, set up structures for us to have these conversations, these conversations are not being equally taken in.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you, President Oliver.
Jacqui and Paris’s question is actually geared toward both of you. We’ll start with you Jacqui, for your initial response. So now that we’re in sort of the fourth installment and close of the True Equity series 2020-21, with all that you and other students are currently facing, what do you hope this increased awareness will bring to, will mean for the Pitzer community and in particular, our students?
Jacqui Campos-Araujo: Thank you, Brandon. Yeah, I think one of the biggest things, I feel like we’ve been talking about a lot of, you know, having that awareness of what is happening on campus. And there are things that are happening on campus or have been happening for the several years now, that are the same. So having that knowledge and awareness of what is happening, and also that creates the collaboration that we’re going to be having, and working together to creating a safe space, safe environment, a sense of belonging for students of color that is really important for their wellbeing and their mental health, it’s really important. And also, another thing is also having that, as Derric mentioned, the disconnect between students and alumni. I feel like that’s really important and I feel I we’ve heard it in LSU, in our meetings. A lot of students do mention how there is a disconnect between there. And we don’t really know a lot of the alumni who are Latinx, who identify as Latinx. And I feel like having that knowledge, letting the community know that there is a disconnect, because I feel like it’s really important to have that connection with alumni. As I mentioned before, like with the solidarity statement, we were clueless, we had never done this before. And I know for a fact, if we were connected with alumni, and if we knew them, we could contact them. And you know, they’ve been here before, they been through these experiences before, they would know what it’s like to be in that position and that having that sense, like okay, we’ve been here before, what can we do now and working together? So that’s definitely one thing I want to get out of this conversation, to know that there’s a disconnect, and we’re there’s something that needs to be done there to have that connection in place.
Brandon Kyle: Same question to you, Paris. What are you hoping this increased awareness will be for Pitzer community, particularly students?
Paris Primm: I think that sums up a lot of the points that the panelists are making, but it’s really about [am I still clear? I’m getting the unstable thing. Okay, good.] — really about like knowing your role within everything I know. I know my role within the issue and with being a student organizer on campus, and how to connect with admin, also connect with President Oliver, connecting with you, Brandon. So we’re super grateful for those connections. But now everybody can see we still do notice problems decades later. Of course, when we put our issues addressed last year, we were making parallel suits, the same demands that were made in the 60s. So we know that, we all know we are definitely past the awareness stage. So now it’s about how can, what can you do? And it’s about, it’s about knowing your role. And being honest, I’m being honest within that, too. And even wider. I know, let’s say in terms of like, protesting right beyond the frontlines. I know my role, I know I won’t be there. But I know what I do do well. I know I can, like I said, I can organize students sorts things. I can run a mutual aid fund. So I know how to do as well. And it’s definitely about the education factor. What can you do? And how can we get better, how can we get better connected as a community? We know, at least I guess even students know that with between what works, like for example, we’ve seen, like the issue and LSU, we have a great relationship. We go beyond like the solidarity statements that we put out. And like I said, being a part of this conversation, I said, oh, hold off, we need LSU here, too. So, like I said, because I know we’re all going here because like, okay, yes, we want to get connected with our alums. So how do we make that institutional? Definitely, I can really just sit there according to an institutional moves because it’s something that we want to see as students but it’s not necessarily something that we have time to like as students. And definitely another piece is getting connected with families, and I didn’t even think about think about. You think about, like, oh well, alums here. But of course, we do have such a robust network of families as well. And everybody can know the ways in which they can support what’s going on on campus then, and it’s put forth through the institution, then you know when we become alums, so hopefully, things will already be set up and we can give back in the ways we want to.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much. One of the things I’m really excited about will be the launching of process, which I’m hoping will streamline the connection between alumni and students, which is the Pitzer Connect communities that you two both been very much involved in, and hoping will be open to the community to share in building those connections virtually through Pitzer Connect, which is, of course, a new platform that we launched early in the fall. Thank you both for sharing that insight.
Our next question again, goes back to you, Derric. So given your work in educational and organizational development, most recently as the director of Crossroads Equity and Justice Institute, I would imagine a large part of your professional experience has been focused on community organizing and creating an ethos in which equity and inclusivity has a chance to thrive. My question to you is based on your experience, how do you think educational institutions can create and maintain safe spaces for students of color?
Derric Johnson: It’s a great question. It’s also a bit complex, because when you say educational institutions, those institutions also bifurcated, right? Are you talking about private institutions? Are you talking about public institutions? Are you talking about institutions that are subsidized through essentially zip codes and locations, and depending on the population that you have in class and the resources that you receive, the tax codes that have been in place for eons in the United States, sometimes determined whether or not you get a quality education as opposed to places or institutions that charge upwards of $40,000 a year in order to subsidize everything that you need.
So let’s just talk about the separation of like educational institutions, and what that actually then potentially produces in terms of again, those networks of access points. And talk historically about the conditions of white flight and how these institutions actually got bifurcated to begin with; was talking about really, some historical, systemic, really ingrained American traditional norms that we don’t really challenge frequently. So that’s the foundation, and that’s really where some of the education, some of the work, some of the continued advocacy and dialogue needs to also be elevated so people get a real sense of where inequities actually fester and spread. But within those institutions, making sure that if you have a seat at the table, and if you are actually engaged in those conversations, you’ve been afforded an opportunity of leadership to make sure that you’re actually representing for those gaps, those voids, those voices that aren’t there, that you can articulate what an equitable environment may look like. And then making sure that you are also having direct communication, conversations with the people who are impacted by whatever is in need.
I think one of the great things about this dialogue is that quite frankly, it initiated from the ground up. There were students who, through their lived experiences, were saying, we have to address this. It’s through that advocacy, it’s through that level of engagement and that agency that has shifted most systems throughout history. It typically comes from folks who are being oppressed and subjugated into a very finite corner of existence, and wanting to be able to like breathe, easily be able to expand their access, be able to engage in multi-layered opportunities without having to, quite frankly, deal with the resistance of not being able to self-actualize. So, I think it’s related to Pitzer. President Oliver, I believe you were the first African American president of this institution, a fantastic historical moment. How long has the school been in existence? Right? I occupy a space at an affluent institution. I happen to be the first African American to ever sit at the administrative table in the 50-year existence of the institution. This is 2021. So we have to talk about those things and really get an understanding that some of these institutions do not; they profess to want change, but they also are very, they’re very stringent about traditional norms being shifted. And so we have to challenge whether or not some of the acts and some of the things that are put in place are more formative, are really about changing the cultural norms of how these institutions function.
Brandon Kyle: Historical knowledge is so, so important. Thank you, Derric, again.
So, Angela, we’re actually we have just a couple more questions with Angela; this one is geared toward you. Another incredible highlight from our initial conversation was your comment that, quote, “It’s the time where we all have to step in and bring what I call radical imaginations. Because the notion was, the nation was never designed to be inclusive. And so we have to redesign our institutions and our agencies.” My question to you based on that notion is how do we move forward as a community during the time of division and how can we redesign together?
Angela Glover: So, I was just thinking as you were all talking about Pitzer and what’s happening there, that one of the things that could come out of this is for Pitzer to decide for itself, what does it mean to be almost, we’re headed toward being past the first quarter of this century, so we’re headed toward the middle of this century; what are we preparing young people to do? I contend that it is a world in which being able to finally resolve these issues of institutionalized structural societal racism will determine the future, because we had gotten to a point in which it’s not just people of color who were being harmed, the entire nation is at risk, because it has failed to figure this out. So, as we think about how to go forward, we really have to prepare, still this whole white, Latinx, Black, Asian, all of them to lead in a multiracial society; that we should never again have students coming out of college who are surprised to find out the history of slavery and reconstruction, and redlining and Jim Crow, and the great migration and the genocide of Indigenous people in this stolen land. None of this should ever be a surprise to anybody who has been through an educational system.
And we have to then figure out how people, students who are white, understand that they have as deep a reason to get all of this as a student who is Black, or a student who is Latinx, or student who is Indigenous. All people who plan to lead and contribute in the future need to understand the past, so that they can lead and produce going forward. And so for me, as I think about radical imagination, clearly, I am talking about something that requires radical imagination, not only for our institutions, but for ourselves, that we can become leaders for all and to lead, for all you have to lead for those who have been most marginalized and discriminated against, because you can’t get to all if you can’t include that; that we’ve got to figure this out. We have, for example, when President Oliver was talking about the issues getting infused throughout all of the curriculum, what I thought is, nobody should teach an economics class and there’s not a Black economics class. Because you can’t understand economics in this country if you don’t understand how slavery was baked into the economy of the nation; just can’t do it. If you don’t get that, you’re not talking economics, you don’t understand. We talk about having a fight for 15 and trying to deal with restaurant workers. The reason that restaurant workers were not included when we got the New Deal, and we got a minimum wage is because that used to be the work of Black people, the servers were Black, they were not going to allow Black people to get that kind of treatment. And so people who were serving were kept out, but also people who were doing agricultural work, because who was doing the agricultural work historically? It was Black people. That is how the economy started. You can’t talk about the economy without understanding Black economics. I’m going to stop you need to do your glasses. But I, I actually think that the future is going to be dependent on institutions like Pitzer understanding that, no, it shouldn’t be, as Jacqui was saying, that we’ve got one little program. The whole thing has to be about the future. And the future is, can we create a thriving multiracial democracy? Not only is the country dependent on it, the world is waiting for it. It’s going to take a different kind of leadership and places like Pitzer need to be producing that leadership.
Brandon Kyle: Yes, thank you so much. That’s actually a perfect segue to our final moderated question. We will open it up for a few questions from the audience, of course. But this was sort of directed to the entire panel. As we begin to wrap up our questions for the evening, I would love to go around the panel ending with President Oliver, and hear from each of you a word or two that describes your hopes for Pitzer through the lens of your own radical imagination. And we will start with you Julia. Julia?
Julia Weber: Oh, I lost you for a second, right when you said my name. So here I am; here I am. So a word right, one word? So, I want to say something sort of about combining some of the questions that you posed to me and some of the questions and the answers that as I was listening to folks, because I feel this, both and you know, I do improvisation also. So I want to say like, yes, and… right? So, I feel like this idea that I want us to have a sense of urgency, because it is heartbreaking to me that we are hearing these stories across the generations, and that we haven’t taken action, as we haven’t gotten as far as we needed to go. So I want to see all of that fixed yesterday and I want to have, change history now. And I want to guard against superficial answers. So I want to not pretend as though we’ve taken care of that problem, check the box, we took care of it, it’s done. We had a meeting, and now we’ve addressed the problem. So it’s sort of, I want us to take all of this as seriously as possible, do the things we know that need to happen, radically imagine, implement, make it happen and make it genuine and real. Because nobody should have to continue to struggle or face the kind of marginalization that we are talking about. There are real harms as a result of this. This is not an academic exercise, even though the academy is involved, obviously. But this is not just an academic exercise. This takes time. Paris, Jacqui, your colleagues, there are real harms that are done. So I want to just dig in, I’m hopeful, and I feel compelled to act and continue to work collaboratively to listen, to learn, and to take whatever steps I can take. So that would be my thinking at this point. Thank you.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much. Julia. Derric, same question. What are your hopes for Pitzer through the lens of your own radical imagination?
Derric Johnson: Radical imagination. It’d be great that we are not having conversations about first: first African American president, first student to graduate with an engineering degree who is African American, it’d be great to not be in that position where we’re in 2021 we’re still talking about firsts. I think my radical imagination for the students is that students would be in a position where they can actually focus solely on their academics and not have to have this duality of like having to fight for change, be put in positions where they’re having to uplift what their lived experiences in the institution and not being afforded the same access or rights that other students have, therefore, they can solely and 100% just be students; right? So there’s an elimination of all the other “isms” that exist, so folks can fully actualize who they want to be in the future without having to have all the other things placed on shoulders. Radical imagination to just be; I think that that’s a critical piece. That was what we had all hoped for when I was a student there. And I guess that that would be my hope for students in the future is that when Paris and Jackie are reaching back, they are just providing support for students and not talking about reoccurring themes of being students in spaces that are occupied by others.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you. Jacqui, same question. What are your hopes for Pitzer through your own lens of radical imagination?
Jacqui Campos-Araujo: Yes, I 100% agree with Derric with what he had to say. Yeah, I want students, specifically students of color, to just focus on academics. I, this past semester, like with the incident that happened regarding the LSU and such, one of the things — I’ve never experienced this on campus, so having to be the co-president of LSU, I was really aware of everything that happened. I came to a realization that we’re, we always have, feel this responsibility to do so much. And to know that my, I realized that my academics weren’t even my priority for a short amount of time, which, you know, I came to college, this should be my priority, it should be academics. But having to educate others on things that they shouldn’t be saying or doing, and that just shouldn’t be the case. And also, I agree with Angela about community. And, you know, I came to Pitzer because of the community, having that tight knit community, that was one thing I’ve always looked for in a college. I’m very hopeful with Pitzer, since it is small, and do we do have a tight community and having these conversations are so important. And, I know other colleges aren’t having this conversation, so that is a step forward. And I’m hopeful that these conversations continue in the future and having that. And I know Pitzer, I’m really hopeful for Pitzer in future generations that these incidents won’t occur because of how tight our community can be.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much, Jacqui. Paris, same question; what are your hopes?
Paris Primm: I hope it’s just kind of related to you over there in the lovely Office of Advancement is that Pitzer reaches a point of higher financial stability. Because, of course, a lot of the things that we envision are more Black students, more Black faculty, more Black staff, it does require money, unfortunately. And we want to see more, we want to see more on campus and expanding those things. It’s going to come with funding. And I know that reality and I’m like, Okay, well, I want to see this, but then I know how things look like behind the scenes. Oh, okay, well, how does all that work out. So I would love to see Pitzer be at a higher point of financial stability. And I would also just like to see things just become like institutionalized. So when we would things that come out of it, like these conversations become institutionalized. So whenever I graduate, whenever we all technically move on, there will still be things structurally in place. And even my wildest dreams is for everything to be organized into one central office. So you go into a central office, I don’t know what this office would be called. But it’s so that alumni and families and students and admin can come together through issues of diversity and inclusion either and it’s not scattered across campus, but it’s organized in one, hopefully, physical space. So I would love to see that as well.
Brandon Kyle: I second, that I love that dream. Thank you so much for sharing that. Angela, similar question.
Angela Glover: I think I already shared radical imagination with you so I’ll just share another one. I’ve been influenced by listening to Derric. I would love to see the Black and Brown alumni really come together and feel ownership and community with Pitzer, and to utilize what they have seen out in the world and bring it in. I think that would just be a big boost for the institution and would help it to be on speed dial as it thinks about how to create this linkage into, from the school to the world, from the school to the world.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much. And we will, the final question, your hopes for Pitzer through the lens of your own radical imagination, President Oliver.
Melvin Oliver: Well, I would take everyone’s vision and say I would love to have all of those things happen. But one of the things that I recognize is that Pitzer really reflects the larger society; we bring people in from all walks of life. And we have to recognize that if we want to have a different Pitzer, it requires us to be able to deal with all of these conflicting visions, views and perspectives. So I would hope that in the future, we have the mechanisms, we have the structures, we have the institutionalized ways of dealing with these differences where we can be a campus that can do that peacefully, we can do it without harm to people, it becomes part of the educational process. And it’s a laboratory for the multiracial democracy that Angela talks about. Because I do believe that that’s where Pitzer has its comparative advantage. We are an institution that engages our students to be more than students, to be a part of the governance of the institution. And in being part of the governance, they learn how to work through conflict, work through difference and create, not a common, but a shared perspective. And that shared perspective comes out of that engagement. And I think that’s where Pitzer makes such a big difference. Thank you.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much, President Oliver. So I think we have time for one question before we close out. I want to give the opportunity to our students who are joining us today. So this question comes in. What does coalition building look like between the affinity organizations on campus? So perhaps, for example, the Infinity Board. And do Jacqui and Paris see it as a successful method to create more sustainable and visible change? Pass it over? Maybe parents?
Paris Primm: Yeah, definitely, we share a lot of similar experiences. Being on this, be honest, campus and relationship where we can go through outside the classroom, inside the classroom, we share similar experiences. So it’s definitely about coming together to have conversations about their experiences in order to build coalitions. And I was kind of touching on earlier about putting yourself in certain positions on campus. So I’ve been, I know that I’m always busy, running around campus, doing things, but I did that strategically so that I can be a part of these conversations, and I can bring in other people that I work with, and that are on the same page as me. But also at the same time of coalition-building between other marginalized groups, we have to acknowledge the problems that we can have between our organizations, so how can we have fruitful conversations about like anti-Blackness in other communities? And how do we move forward to work together on campus, because it’s always amazing when people do come together for a unified vision. We know we have a saying, we pretty much want the same thing. So how can we work together to make all of our experiences better on this campus?
Brandon Kyle: Jacqui?
Jacqui Campos-Araujo: I agree 100% with Paris, she said it beautifully. I also agree that it’s really important for all like affinity groups to be together and have the same conversations. I know we already have an ID board that has a bunch of conversations for us, but I think it will also be important. I know Brandon mentioned having a dinner. So bringing you know, these affinity groups together is really important. And I know we are taking those steps forward, which is I’m also really excited for that as well.
Brandon Kyle: I think we might have time for perhaps one more question coming in. I’ll be happy to share with the group.
Angela Glover: There is a second question in the chat. And it has something to do with critical race theory. I’ll actually like to speak to that. I do think that we need for all people who understand the importance of having an honest telling, and learning of the history of the nation, that people all who believe that need to speak up for it. Do not sit silently and let people dismiss that; we know there is nothing wrong with learning history, and we need to not let the language trip us up. It is not a theory that this country had slavery. That’s a fact; it’s not theory. I don’t have a theory about the land having been stolen for the purpose of building wealth; that’s not a theory. We need to just put that language aside. Critical race theory is about something very specific, it is not the same. It’s just learning the true history of the nation. We have an obligation to stand up for that and if all of the people in this country who know we have an obligation stood up for it, we wouldn’t be having a debate. We wouldn’t be having a debate. Too much silence.
Paris Primm: I touched on that a little bit. I was kind of reflecting on my reaction to like critical race theory and another course that I’m taking. And there was all the pushback of how uncomfortable it will make people feel. And I just want to just touch on, if it’s uncomfortable for you to learn about it, how uncomfortable do you think it is for us to go through it on a daily basis? So the least you can do is be educated and educate yourself.
Angela Glover: Thank you for saying that. That’s so true.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you so much. Any other thoughts or comments? I will pass it over to President Oliver for final thoughts before we close.
Melvin Oliver: Well, Brandon, thank you for leading a very interesting conversation, one that I hope people have found useful. I know that every time I have this conversation with Pitzer constituents, I feel so fortunate to be at an institution where people care so deeply and are engaged with the issues and who have something to say that is truly thoughtful, and interesting. More importantly, it’s crucial, as Angela puts it, for our society for the world, to come to grips with these very, very difficult questions. And I’m just very proud that we are taking these initial steps and not stopping. We’re moving forward and going to the next step and the step after that. Thank you.
Brandon Kyle: Thank you. Well, I would like to just extend a thank you to our incredible panel today. I appreciate you sharing your time, insight and experiences with our community. As a reminder, all four segments will be available online at the [email protected] True Equity web page. And we look forward to continuing our True Equity programs in the spring of 2022. On behalf of Pitzer College, thank you to everyone who attended today’s discussion. I hope that you all have an incredible rest of your evening. Thank you and good night.