Black Arts at Oxy


The Occidental yearbooks from 1970 and 1971 illustrate the student body’s interest in socio-political issues and a dedication to creating a sustained minority scholarship. Each yearbook, entitled La Encina, emphasizes the importance of art at Oxy, primarily focusing on student contributions that include writing and abstract photographs.

It seems like 1970-1971 may have been a year for controversy at Oxy because the introduction of the yearbook comments on the campus climate in an ambiguous manner stating in its concluding sentence, "So here, for better and worse, is Occidental College...". The yearbook delves into the student body's interest in creating a minority scholarship, noting that there was a fundraising drive for the endowed scholarship that brought “three unique basketball games to campus” - one of which included Bill Cosby. Further showcasing an appreciation for diversity on campus, there is a section dedicated to Black Arts Week that also features an image of the Reverend Jesse Jackson who was a keynote speaker. There is no mention of the Black Arts Exhibition, but it may have taken place in conjunction with a Black Arts Week. The yearbook also makes reference to an active international club on campus that organized cultural events for students. Throughout 1970-71 Occidental illustrated a growing interest in diversity and presenting viewpoints from multiple perspectives.

Looking through The Oxy Weekly’s from 1970 and 1971, it is easy to ascertain the climate and conditions that the Student body wanted to evoke surrounding the Black Arts Community and Minority Ethnic groups. In an article published in September of 1970 by John Tidd, he discusses how students at Occidental had ‘a greater awareness of respect to themselves and the society around them, especially when including Blacks, Chicanos and Indians.’ He states that this epic social step forward was helped by Dr. Richard Gilman, the President of Occidental, who made sure to increase minority enrollment exponentially each year, and to raise their financial aid. This article, written around the beginning of the year set a precedent for what was to come over the next academic season.

More attention was concentrated on the Black Arts Community, specifically in relation to PASLA (Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles), which was comprised ‘primarily of Blacks’. Oxy Students volunteered to take part in workshops that analyzed and discussed performances  surrounding a 'Black Experience', by which they meant ‘situations that most white people had never had to deal with’. This suggests that like Occidental College today, the campus community during the 70's wanted to break down barriers between cultures and races, by directly immersing themselves into worlds that were not particularly aware of or part of. Members of the college wanted to understand issues that were affecting not only certain individuals and ethnic groups but people who could easily be they own peers. This social outlook was emphasized by other events that took place on campus during 1970, for example a recording of Tom Skinner ( a former Harlem Gang leader), speaking on US racism and his book ‘Black and Free’, which was played on Campus for any students to hear. 

Most Notably, the peak of Occidentals engagement with the Black Arts, came in the form of their ‘Black Arts week”, held in April of 1971. It included a jewelry sale, Mixer, Art Exhibit, Talent Show and Movies surrounding African American culture, as well as multiple speakers discussing issues surrounding race. There were even KOXY (the occidental college radio channel) radio shows debating subjects like discrimination and prejudice. This epic time in the Oxy calendar, demonstrates how dedicated Oxy was to creating change, by encouraging discussion, inclusivity and understanding. Involvement with Black History was also clear throughout the weekly Newspapers, including a ‘Black History Quiz’, that could be taken in order to obtain a job with KABC(A radio-television talkshow). This was open to all students and actively encouraged them to research Black history in order to be rewarded with a job at KABC, where they would take part in live shows that would discuss issues of race and discrimation.

Within the newspaper itself, great change came in the form of a column written by Black students - ‘Blacktalk’. Its function was to provide a multicultural experience by relating to other students ‘ideas, experiences, aspirations, viewpoints and general attitudes’ of Black Students at Occidental - it was designed to Inform. As this column was started at the end of the academic year, it shows to us how great strides were made within a few months, from the previously mentioned article written by John Tidd (discussing the topic of social engagement) to the end of they year, where black students were now actively engaged with what was being written, said and expressed in the campus newspaper.

Page created by Jocelyn Lo, Sophia McGinty, Vanessa Todd, and Leila Wang in December 2016.

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