This article is part of The Occidental’s ongoing investigation into Jennifer Townsend Crosthwaite ’84, the donor who resigned from the college’s board of trustees after a photograph of her and two other alumnae in blackface was discovered in a 1984 edition of La Encina.
This is a developing story. The Occidental will update this article as information becomes available.
In a photograph printed in a 1980 edition of La Encina, Occidental College’s yearbook, donor Barry Crosthwaite ’80 is pictured in front of the Marketplace alongside alumni Bill Davis ’80, Jon Love ’80, Tom Leighton ’83 and Dick Ringer ’81 — the photograph is captioned “The Aryan Alliance.”
Crosthwaite, along with his wife Jennifer Townsend Crosthwaite ’84 — who resigned from the college’s board of trustees Feb. 21 after college senior administrative staff discovered a 1984 photograph of her and two other alumnae in blackface — pledged $1.5 million to fund the Townsend Crosthwaite Pool. The pool is part of the larger $17.5 million construction of the De Mandel Aquatic Center, a 30,000-square-foot athletics facility scheduled to open June 2019. Crosthwaite, an equity portfolio manager at Capital Group, was a member of the swim and water polo teams while enrolled at Occidental.
Davis, pictured alongside Crosthwaite, was the founding president of Southern California Public Radio (SCPR). He acted as SPCR’s president and CEO from 2001–2019 before stepping down in February 2019 and assuming the role of president emeritus. Davis currently sits on the Barack Obama Scholars Program advisory council and co-chaired the college’s Spring 2018 football task force, a 16-member committee that convened in response to the cancellation of the Fall 2017 football season. He is also a member of The Occidental’s advisory board. During his time as a student at Occidental, Davis was a member of the swim and water polo teams alongside Crosthwaite.
In a statement provided to The Occidental, printed in full below, Davis apologized for the photograph and explained its context.
“Jon Love was my freshman year roommate and a member of Oxy’s men’s tennis team. Jon was also friends with a number [of] players on the men’s water polo team. The others in the picture—Barry Crosthwaite, Dick Ringer, Tom Leighton, and I—were all water polo players.
“The photo was an attempt to make a point about identity and friendship. Given Jon’s background—Chicago native, Jewish, tennis player—he was often asked why he hung out with the guys on the water polo team—almost all of whom were tall, blonde, Californians who weren’t Jewish—and vice versa. We accepted Jon’s reference to us as his “aryan alliance” as an inside joke, an ironic commentary on the gap between who we’re expected to befriend in college and who our friends truly are.
“All of this notwithstanding, the photograph was a lame, unsuccessful attempt at humor—and we should have known better. While we were trying [to] be ironic, I’m certain that I speak for the others when I express regret for our boorish, loutish behavior and I apologize for any offense or pain that this photograph has caused.
“To provide further context, I should note Jon and I were groomsmen in each other’s weddings, and we remain lifelong friends. I was also a groomsman in Dick’s wedding, and I was best man at Barry’s wedding. All three of us are also lifelong friends. Tom was three years younger and, while we keep in touch on social media, I have not maintained as close a relationship with him as I have with the others in the picture.”
Crosthwaite echoed Davis’ statement and apologized for the language used in the caption.
“I want to apologize to everyone who has seen them [the photo and caption], then or now,” Crosthwaite said via email. “As a young man I didn’t understand the impact such charged language would have. I’m sincerely sorry for my thoughtlessness and insensitivity.”
In an email statement provided to The Occidental, President Jonathan Veitch said that although Davis and Crosthwaite’s comments indicate that this was a poorly-conceived joke, using such language was wrong, insensitive and thoughtless.
“This is yet another example of why we need to move ahead with our important conversation about Oxy’s history that we have already begun with the Oxy community,” Veitch said via email. “Even a cursory glance at La Encina reveals racially charged images as well as examples of cultural appropriation and sexism. If we are to move forward as a community, ultimately we must do so collaboratively, involving all key stakeholders in the process. We have much to be proud of at Oxy, and it’s important not to lose sight of that fact.”
Veitch said that the administration will be reaching out to the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) and the Faculty Council this week to meet and determine how to move forward. Veitch also said that a discussion of the college’s history and its modern implications is already on the agenda for the board of trustees’ April meeting, with the goal that an action plan on these issues will continue through the summer and into Fall 2019.
The Occidental has reached out to Love, Leighton and Ringer for comment.
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