Letter to the editor: Occidental student-athletes demand accountability

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Last week, Oxy announced its decision to permanently end the football program. This decision, and the school’s treatment of its current and former student athletes, is representative of the lack of transparency and the necessity for student perspectives in the decision-making process. I, like many of my peers, am exhausted.

Oct. 13 at 3:17 p.m. PST, the football team got an email for a 4:00 p.m. meeting. This is when they received the news that their team had been disbanded. At 5:31 p.m., President Elam released the decision schoolwide. At 5:35 p.m., all Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members were invited to a 6:30 p.m. meeting. The futures of football student athletes and the livelihoods of the football coaching staff were drastically transformed in a matter of three hours. The football program was cut with seemingly no awareness from student athletes that they, according to President Elam’s email, “have been under review since 2017.” This lack of communication and transparency has repeatedly harmed students. Football is only the most recent example.

Sep. 28 the athletics department failed to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis occurring in Nagorno-Karabakh (also called Artsakh), detailed beautifully here by my good friend Serena Pelenghian. The Oxy Athletics Instagram account posted a throwback tribute post for volleyball player Lara Minassians’ monumental 1000th career assist. Minassians offered her gratitude and asked for the account to repost an Oxy Armenian Students Association (ASA) post to spread awareness of the catastrophic attack by Azerbaijan. The request was dismissed, leaving our Armenian community and student athletes feeling betrayed and unsupported. Only after a lot of internal deliberation and conversations with the ICC, Deans and Athletics, did Dean Rob Flot finally send out an email Oct. 9 regarding the assault on Nagorno-Karabakh. It was only after public recognition from the college that Athletics finally followed suit and reposted ASA’s message.

We have amazing students, faculty, student-athletes, coaches and staff, all of whom truly care. But to quote President Elam’s email again, “an unwavering commitment to athletics” and “the fundamental belief in maintaining strong and well-supported athletics programs” is something that many current and former student athletes no longer feel. The issue of transparency and lack of accountability has been brought up numerous times by SAAC to the department. It shouldn’t take this much effort from frustrated SAAC and ASA co-presidents to get a simple repost. The Oxy Athletics mission statement is supposed to advance the college’s mission of excellence, equity, community and service. We need to have discussions as faculty, staff and students on where we are falling short of this mission. We need a department where the question of what students need is inherent in the decision-making process. We need more productive discussions about how to implement real change in accordance with student needs.

I joined SAAC and the athletics subcommittee for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) for action — not lip service. I joined a group to fight for just and equitable learning environments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for real long-term change. This is not and never has been about the resume. I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge, experiences and perspectives from numerous alumni and current students, and I understand  these problems arise year after year. Our concerns are dispensable for the college because eventually, we graduate. However, with a new president and new athletic director, I hoped (and still hope)  this lack of transparency and accountability won’t continue to recur and that we can be the “tight-knit” community our institution prides itself on being.

One of the mission’s pillars is diversity. Diversity isn’t just about the color of one’s skin; it’s about the experiences and perspectives that individuals offer. Without transparency and student perspective, people’s futures are drastically altered by authorities unaware of the ramifications.

This isn’t just about football. It’s too late for that. We already know that some football players, who took the year off in hopes of coming back next year to play, wasted their last few months here. We already know the first-years who enrolled in hopes of getting their first crack at college football next fall were betrayed. We already know the coaches who were blind-sided are now heartbroken and potentially unemployed amidst a global pandemic without any warning. We already know it: I’m just waiting for you to admit it.

We need long-term, tangible action to tackle the lack of accountability and transparency at Occidental. Our administration has 2,000 undergraduates at its disposal. It’s time to let us in.

JP Flores is a senior biology major and co-president of Occidental’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.