Protesting Racial Bias, Students Trade Placards For Pillows Inspired by the events at Mizzou, students at Occidental College in Los Angeles recently got administrators to agree to a list of demands and are pledging to hold them accountable.
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Protesting Racial Bias, Students Trade Placards For Pillows

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Protesting Racial Bias, Students Trade Placards For Pillows

Protesting Racial Bias, Students Trade Placards For Pillows

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Protests over racial discrimination on college campuses are leading to some swift responses and pledges of reform by college administrators. Even as the protests quiet down with the Thanksgiving holiday, NPR's Kirk Siegler reports activists are pledging a prolonged fight.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: In Northeast Los Angeles, the small liberal arts Occidental College bills itself as one of the most diverse campuses in the U.S. Just over 40 percent of Oxy students are of color, yet it's pretty easy to find people like Raihana Haynes-Venerable. She's a junior from Chandler, Ariz., who says she faces subtle and sometimes overt racism on campus almost every day.

RAIHANA HAYNES-VENERABLE: For me, it's been changing the culture of Occidental College.

SIEGLER: For her, that starts here, inside the offices of the school's president and top administrators.

HAYNES-VENERABLE: She pulled the - my partner is a person of color.

SIEGLER: Inspired by the protests at the University of Missouri, Haynes-Venerable and a multiracial mix of fellow student took over this building for a week, camping out on air mattresses, holding workshops on diversity. Sympathetic professors have even held their classes here.

And where are all the administrators?

HAYNES-VENERABLE: They're gone. They've completely gone.

SIEGLER: These students gave administrators a list of 14 demands to address what they say are systemic racial biases on campus. Student activists say their voices often aren't heard in classes. They feel isolated on this campus and are routinely profiled by security at night. Among their list of demands is a fully-funded black studies program, an increase in tenured faculty of color and the creation of a vice president for diversity.

HAYNES-VENERABLE: I think through the teach-ins we've been hosting, the workshops and the personal dialogues we've been having with each other, we've really created the Occidental that we were promised and that we wanted.

SIEGLER: Now, what's happening here at Oxy is not unique. At nearby Claremont McKenna College, student protests led to the resignation of a high-ranking administrator over comments that were seen as racially charged. At Princeton, students celebrated after school administrators promised to consider removing tributes to President Woodrow Wilson, a supporter of racial segregation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is a long-distance race. This is not a sprint. It is just beginning right here, right now.

SIEGLER: In all of these protests across the country, the students say they feel marginalized. Benjamin Reese, chief diversity officer for Duke University, says it's a frustration that's long been raised in the wider black community, especially now, with the recent outcry over police shootings against unarmed black men.

BENJAMIN REESE: I examine and see what's happening on college campuses as happening in the context of the kind of struggle that's going on nationally around race.

SIEGLER: Reese says it's a movement to take seriously, but it's far too early to compare it to the black student protests of the Civil Rights era, as some have, though he says of some of the early successes are remarkable. At Occidental, administrators have already outlined and, in some cases, are showing how they'll comply with all but one of the students' 14 demands - that of the resignation of the president. Marty Sharkey is the college spokesman.

MARTY SHARKEY: We want the students to know that we're ready, and we know we must join them at the table.

SIEGLER: You know, if you could do these things so quickly, why didn't - why didn't you do them, you know, years ago or months ago?

SHARKEY: That's a great question. I think there are some items on there that I think have been issues that have been out there for a while. Others are newer requests, so that's why they haven't been responded to. And everyone acknowledges that there's more to be done.

SIEGLER: The student protesters say they plan to hold the administrators accountable to that in the weeks and months ahead, even though their occupation of Occidental's admin building has ended. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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