The College’s 2018 commencement theme aims to celebrate women’s leadership. Instead of the usual single speaker, the College has decided to host four female speakers who have become leaders in different fields over the last six decades.
“At a time when women’s voices are being heard as never before, we thought it fitting to honor women who exemplify the lasting contributions those voices have made and continue to make,” Occidental President Jonathan Veitch said about the commencement ceremony theme.
However, one of the speakers does not deserve that honor. Oxy Board of Trustees member Cathie Young Selleck ’55 has a history of dismissing and mistreating survivors of sexual assault. Selleck acted inappropriately at a 2014 Survivors’ Vigil outside of a board meeting. Despite students and faculty filing a Title IX complaint against the College with 37 allegations of mishandling sexual assault (which eventually became over 50 allegations), Selleck berated and bullied student activists, and as she left the Vigil, she physically assaulted an Oxy graduate, shoving them and pushing a camera in their face.
“Cathie Young Selleck admonished and became physically aggressive toward a camera-person and students, including and particularly toward myself,” Ray Buckner ’15 said via email. “Cathie Young Selleck’s behavior that night — her aggression toward survivors, her bullying communication and her unwillingness to listen to our experiences of communal suffering — was unjust and deeply unsettling. As both a Buddhist and survivor of sexual assaults (events of which occurred at Oxy), the path of leadership is clear: the path is to be walked with courage, softness and kindness. That night in 2014, Cathie Young Selleck lacked in all such qualities. In sum, Cathie Young Selleck should not speak at Oxy’s commencement, not unless she plans to seriously grapple with the harm she has done through aggression and complacency to our collective Oxy family, and to my fellow sexual assault survivors.”
For this reason, we — along with over 360 students and alumni — have signed a petition calling for Selleck’s removal from commencement. We encourage anybody who shares our sentiment to sign the petition as well.
The decision to include Selleck as a commencement speaker and honoree reflects a larger issue as well. We believe that the administration and Board of Trustees rely on students to graduate and not know the recent history of the institution. Students need to know the ways the administration has failed its students in the past. Readily available documents verify that President Veitch accused a survivor of “actively seeking to embarrass the college on the evening news” when she publicly spoke out about her rape March 5, 2013; that former Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Avery and former Campus General Counsel Carl Botterud overwhelmingly received a vote of no confidence from faculty May 6, 2013. We must remember that Veitch turned his back and walked away as students publicly discussed their pain and trauma, instead of listening. We must remember that the Board of Trustees came out in full support of President Veitch when Oxy United for Black Liberation (made up of Oxy’s Black Student Alliance and Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity) organized the November 2015 occupation of the Arthur G. Coons administrative building, attended by over 600 students, over the College’s anti-blackness and with 14 demands including Veitch’s resignation.
Most of all, though, we must remember — and students after us must remember — the student and faculty activists who fought for and continue to fight for systemic change. We have seen the power of persistent activism throughout our time at Oxy. Whether it is the re-emergence of OSAC (Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition) or the ratification of DEB (Diversity and Equity Board) as a branch of our student government, there is no shortage of students who will keep Oxy accountable to its four cornerstones of excellence, equity, community and service. And although we are graduating in May, this conversation will not end here. We call on juniors, sophomores and first-years to join and support organizations that are committed to making Oxy a safer, more equitable institution. If the administration is truly dedicated to making and upholding progress, they must remove Selleck as a commencement speaker.
Gabriella Anson ’18, Juliette Blackmun ’18, Kelly Chang ’18, Samantha Farrell ’18, Anthony Garcia ’18, Lyn Tan ’18 , Margaret Schedl ’18 and Micaela Stevens ’18