New student representatives selected for Equity and Justice Committee

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Occidental’s Academic Quad in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 4, 2019. Mohi Andrabi/The Occidental

The Equity and Justice Committee (EJC), formerly known as the Equity and Inclusion Group (EIG), recently accepted two new student representatives, Jaya Duckworth (sophomore) and Jackson Jones (sophomore), according to Stephanie Howard (junior), Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) vice president of internal affairs. Howard said the group is composed of two other students, Kitty Lu (senior) and Nathan Tam (sophomore), as well as faculty, administrators and alumni.

According to the EJC’s 2019–2020 End of Year Report, the EIG was originally formed in Fall 2019 with five focuses, including assessing the college’s need for a Chief Diversity Officer, better documentation of the college’s history related to equity and inclusion and addressing the action items listed in an April 2019 joint statement between former President Jonathan Veitch and former ASOC president Jacques Lesure ’19.

Howard said the need for a group dedicated to equity and justice grew more apparent after the Fall 2019 Orientation panel. She said that many students took issue with the way the Orientation panel dealt with discussions surrounding the college’s history of racial issues, which led to the formation of the EIG. The group was renamed the EJC in Summer 2020 to more accurately reflect its mission, according to the 2019–2020 End of Year Report.

“[The EIG] was created as a reaction to the panel, but I think that it’s been needed for a long time. Their work is going to look a little different each semester, depending on what is most needed,” Howard said.

Additionally, Howard said she did not feel as though the administration adequately acknowledged student grief and trauma resulting from the loss of two Black students, Ilah Richardson and Jaden Burris, last spring. Both of their passages were unexpected, and before the student body was able to fully process their grief, the semester transitioned to a remote structure in response to the developing pandemic.

“The EJC has a lot to tackle: how poorly Jaden and Ilah’s deaths were handled, how Black studies is not adequately supported, the issues with last year’s orientation panel and the state of the world right now,” Howard said. “There’s a lot to be done.”

Howard was part of the committee that read this fall’s applications. Her goal was to not search for the application with the longest resume; instead, she said she looked for people who were fervent about doing the work of the EJC.

“I was looking for someone who is passionate about social justice, feels as if they know a variety of kinds of Oxy students, and want to advocate for all students, specifically the ones who are most disenfranchised,” Howard said.

Duckworth said she hopes to serve as a messenger between marginalized students and administrators in her new position on the committee.

“Marginalized students are continuously underserved and excluded in higher education,” Duckworth said. “Especially during the pandemic and the ongoing movement for Black Lives, I think we’ve all seen just how our current systems are failing and how overdue we are for systemic changes.”

Christopher Arguedas, director of the Intercultural Community Center (ICC), has been a member of the EJC since its founding. He said that defining equity and highlighting how to achieve it have remained on the forefront of the EJC’s mission. Going forward, he said the committee will start addressing some of the issues surrounding equity at the college.

“We’ve identified a number of resources and prospective positions meant to concretize equity work through learning, dialogue, strategic planning and accountability,” Arguedas said. “Ultimately, there’s no one right answer, and each of us at Oxy has a role in our next steps. Equity often means everyone’s needs are met and that requires a willingness to become a part of the process.”

According to the 2019–2020 End of Year Report, the EJC has outlined nine recommendations for the college based on its conversations during the past year. These recommendations include creating an equity and inclusion vision and strategic plan, consulting President Harry J. Elam Jr. about the potential of immediately hiring a CDO and conducting a series of implicit bias trainings for faculty, staff and students. The report also states that the committee will continue to meet this upcoming year to support the enacting of their recommendations.

Arguedas said he would like many members of the Occidental community to weigh in on the EJC’s continuous work.

“We need input from folks who are not currently a part of the group,” Arguedas said. “I hope students will apply and/or connect with me if they have ideas for the EJC. It’s never too late to make your voice heard.”