AGC occupation: Looking back

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Students raise each other's hands in solidarity at the final rally last November. | César Martinez

Occidental College’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) and the Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) led hundreds of students in support of Oxy United for Black Liberation (OUBL), a movement with the goal of improving the Occidental experience for students of color, in particular black students, in an occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC) Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Though clamorous at times with students’ chanting, it remained peaceful from start to finish. The occupation concluded Friday, Nov. 20 after the administration released a plan to confront the demands OUBL put forth during a rally for racial equality the preceding week in the academic quad.

Though Oxy United’s presence has since diminished, its supporters remain committed to creating a more welcoming and equitable atmosphere on campus for students, faculty and staff of color.

“I really felt like it was a means of gaining some sort of agency and power as minority groups, being able to show that you have a voice and that you know that minority groups do know how to work within the constraints of democracy,” Euella Jackson, a foreign exchange student from the University of East Anglia last year who participated in the protest, said.

A flood of students entered the AGC in the early afternoon of Nov. 16 and proceeded to occupy the first-floor offices of staff and administrators, making it difficult for personnel to conduct their work. For example, registrar staff members were unable to help students with course registration-related concerns because protesters occupying the office would have been able to see confidential information visible on the computer screens. The protesters politely refused to move to the other side of the counter from where the screens were not visible.

“It was a little frustrating as you can imagine, for the staff in particular, because that’s what their job is,” Associate Registrar Jim Herr said.

News of the events in the AGC spread quickly across Occidental’s campus of approximately 2,100 students, most of whom knew individuals participating in the occupation. Hundreds of students were involved in the occupation in some capacity.

“I think that the occupation did a great job of making the administration and greater campus community confront issues regarding race,” former Intercultural Community Center Programming Assistant Ricardo Parada (junior), who participated in the occupation, said. “Instead of being able to postpone action around marginalized students’ negative experiences, it was something they were made to deal with in a timely manner.”

During the protests, there was a lack of communication between various parts of the campus, which resulted in some college employees being unaware of the events taking place.

“Since we’re in the office, we don’t necessarily find out about everything that’s going on,” Director of Financial Aid Gina Becerril said. “We weren’t [at the rally] because we didn’t know it was going to happen, so none of us were there — it was just kind of afterwards we heard about it.”

News of the occupation spread throughout the country as well, with publications such as the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post and Breitbart covering the protest.

According to Jackson, much of the Occidental community was supportive of the protest and the students’ passion for promoting equity on campus.

“I remember local support and alumni coming down to talk, professors accommodating and running classes down in the AGC so everyone wouldn’t have to move, and everyone was helping in some kind of way,” Jackson said. “Everyone was willing to help and everyone was down for the cause.”

Photographs published on Oxy United’s website show students, many of whom had pillows and sleeping bags, sitting on the floors of offices, corridors and hallways with laptops, chargers and other personal belongings. Leaders of the occupation distributed cases of water bottles, Gatorade and snacks to protesters. The occupation ended Friday with a rally on the steps between Johnson and Fowler Halls to reunite students behind the goal of creating equity for everybody on campus.

In the past year, Occidental’s administration has made progress in fulfilling every demand except the first — the resignation of President Jonathan Veitch, whose contract is up for renewal in 2020.

“What I took away from it was a sense of community, a sense of the building of allyship, the way in which so many small voices were able to be heard through this political act of occupying your administration building at your university, or college,” Jackson said. “It was a really good week.”

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