Students at Occidental College who have occupied an administration building this week have demanded that campus safety officers stop wearing bulletproof vests.
The demand is one of fourteen presented to the administration by the students, who call themselves “Oxy United for Black Liberation.” Other demands include the resignation of university president Jonathan Veitch, the creation of a Black Studies program, and hiring “physicians of color” to deal with injuries “associated with issues of identity.”
The demand for campus safety officers to stop wearing bulletproof vests is a strange one. The full demand is: “Immediate demilitarization of Campus Safety. Includes, but is not limited to: removal of bulletproof vest from uniform, exclusion of military and external police rhetoric from all documents and daily discourse, increased transparency and positive direct connection to the student body.”
The effect of removing bulletproof vests would simply be to make public safety officers more vulnerable to attack. It is also unclear how a campus police would exclude “police rhetoric” from internal communications, under student supervision.
The demands appear to be shaped by the ideology of the Black Lives Matter movement, which began last year in response to alleged incidents of police violence against black people, including the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown as he attacked a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Black Lives Matter has demanded radical changes in policing across the country–often, according to both federal and local officials, to the detriment of public safety in urban communities.
The students have given the university until Friday to consider their demands. Meanwhile, they plan to continue occupying the three-story administration building.
Other campus protests have resulted in the capitulation of university administrators, most notably at the University of Missouri, where protests prompted the resignation of both the university president and chancellor within hours of each other early last week. A dean of students at Claremont McKenna College also resigned last week.
Brenda Gazzar of the Los Angeles Daily News reports that Veitch has the support of the university trustees. She quotes an open letter by Chris Calkins, chair of the Occidental College Board of Trustees: “From the very beginning, Jonathan has focused on creating a more diverse and inclusive institution…He has been tireless in raising money for scholarships; hiring a diverse faculty and staff, and furthering the mission of the college.”
Gazzar reports that Occidental’s administration has not only tolerated the demonstrators, but praised them: “We applaud the socially conscious spirit of these students. They are bringing attention to an important movement and helping our community have a difficult but necessary conversation about race, identity and culture,” it said in a statement.
President Barack Obama attended Occidental College from 1979 to 1981 before transferring to Columbia University.