A forum organized by Pitzer College’s Latino Student Union on Oct. 9 attempted to provide an opportunity to students, staff and faculty to discuss the role of activism in the Latino community and the statements made on the anonymous race-referencing posters. Concerns raised at the forum included adjusting the admissions policy to encourage greater ethnic, cultural and economic diversity, a broader inclusion of the student body in the hiring and firing of staff and faculty and the designation of specific space for minority communities.
Paul Waters-Smith, vice president of the Pitzer Student Government, said: “The differentiation of space on campus is necessary; without intentional alternative spaces, a dominant culture becomes hegemonic. All over the country marginalized students’ communities have fought for and won spaces they can call theirs. This ownership over space is necessary if honest discussion of power and domination on campus is going to occur.”
Discrimination and space was a part of the dialogue on Oct. 9, but from a different perspective from that of Waters-Smith. In a transition from discussion about Latino student activism into an airing of grievances about the atmosphere of sexual harassment and racism in the Pitzer workplace, the dialogue included concerns about how the designation of specific spaces for minority groups was discriminatory.
A former Pitzer dining hall worker handed out a letter to the attendees of the forum, calling for students to align with staff members and voice their opposition to racism within the upper management at McConnell dining hall. The handout said that Pitzer “is a place where workers get coffee stores instead of raises or break rooms, and where they get rid of the people who report the problems, rather than getting rid of the problems.”
The reference to “coffee stores instead of raises or break rooms” is an allusion to the newly-opened Pitzer Café in the space once designated as a break room in Bernard Hall. This café is a direct competitor of student-run establishments such as the Grove House and the Motley.
Edith Vasquez, a professor of English and world literature, voiced her concerns about perceived hostility toward faculty who teach in non-traditional ways and the atmosphere of sexual harassment toward women of color. Vasquez said that she has been a victim of this type of harassment. The dialogue inspired by this forum represented three distinct groups converging over the issue of racism, both in the Pitzer community and in the 5C community as a whole.
“The students were caught completely off guard,” said Anthony Fuentes, vice president of the Latino Student Union. “[Students] were somewhat alienated from the discussion because of the faculty, administration and personal problems that were brought up which detracted from the original issues. Their reaction was to question why communication of what happens with the faculty, staff and administration was so unclear. The administration has the responsibility to be more clear and transparent with the students.”
“When you try to address one segment of an issue like racism, you quickly find that you can’t have a discussion without exploring the other interlocking systems of domination, in this case class oppression and patriarchy” said Waters-Smith.
Currently, Pitzer boasts a ranking of the 11th most ethnically diverse liberal arts college by U.S. News and World Report. Scripps, the least diverse of the 5Cs, was ranked 18th. These rankings reflect only racial diversity, not necessarily cultural or socioeconomic diversity.
“The atmosphere of the forum was fairly tense and confusing,” said Fuentes. “It’s clear that more questions than answers came from the forum.” The Latino Student Union is planning a followup forum within the next month to continue the dialogue about diversity and activism at the 5C’s.