Black Arts at Oxy


The campus climate at Occidental is often viewed as open to political and social discussion. However, during the 1971-1972 school year, discussion facilitated through The Occidental (known today as The Occidental Weekly) took the form of several highly polarized accusations from the column “From the Right,” a high number of letters to the editor, and a later response column called “From the Left.”  Both of columns arose in discourse as a result of the column named "Black Talk" which was considered highly inflammatory by a number of vocal white students and writers. "Black Talk" was written by rotating contributors and was first published in fall of 1971. It represented one platform for the pursuit of a greater Black consciousness and visibility on campus.

Other outlets included musical performances, some examples of which were a 
performance by a blues band and a jazz vigil celebrating Malcolm X’s birthday. That fall, the Art Department of Occidental College collaborated with Brockman Gallery to present a show called Black Arts that highlighted local Black artists. Maya Angelou also was a guest speaker on campus to discuss her recently published book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The convocation speaker, who was a Black judge, spoke on differences between campus activism versus the harder and more important activism in the community.

During the 1971-1972 school year, discussion around race, racism, and the treatment of minority groups became a heated topic on campus, and public animosity towards those groups was normalized. The unrest was due in part to the college's reaction to President Nixon’s freeze on wages and prices on August 15th, 1971. Nixon’s freeze raised concern as to how the college would remain afloat, where financial cuts would be made, and whether students were at risk of higher tuition costs going into the school year.

In response to the freeze, only a handful of clubs and organizations were placed on the chopping block. One account of this was an article, written in the college newspaper The Occidental, by student Jurutha Brown who stated, “On Sept. 28 the BOG [Board of Governors, a group of elected students] adopted a financial policy that in Section Eight stated that the ASOC would not fund ‘special interest groups’ which resulted in the defunding of BSC [Black Student Caucus], MECHA [a Chicano organization], and the Asian Alliance,” all of which are multicultural organizations. The organizations were eventually given their full funding back, yet the conflict opened further conversation around the oppression of minority students on campus which persisted even with their higher enrollment going into the fall of 1971. The greater presence of minority students is suggested to have led to the increase in conversation about minority representation on campus and, furthermore, the hiring of Occidental’s first Black trustee.

In the spring of 1972 discussions about what constituted community ramped up among students of color as well as white students. The result was students of color organizing around the cause of making Wylie a multi-cultural living community. The living community was not realized that year, and organizers accepted this while turning the cause into a catalyst for regular discussions on multiculturalism in Wylie through the end of the year. The living community proposition was criticized by many white students as being divisive and speeding the perceived downward trajectory of the institution as it lost “tradition.”

Page created by Christina Sabin, Katherine Torrey, Chloe Welmond and Allison Wendt in December 2016.

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