'One of the Most Serious Groups of Students to Have Gone Through Occidental'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

… back when they were protesting apartheid, not microaggressions:

Occidental alum Margot Mifflin wrote a short piece for The New Yorker back in 2008:

On February 18, 1981, a student at Occidental College, Barack Obama, delivered his first public speech. As the opening speaker at a rally protesting Occidental’s investments in companies that were doing business in apartheid South Africa, he stood with one hand in his pocket, spoke in declarative spurts, and showed no sign of being the orator who would become President nearly twenty-eight years later. Before he could say much, he was carried off by two students pretending to be oppressive Afrikaners. [...]

The rally was not, as advertised, entirely about apartheid. It was about the racial issues smoldering on our own privileged, largely white campus, a subject some of the speakers passionately addressed. Students of color felt marginalized, and the faculty was not diverse. “We call this rally today to bring attention to Occidental’s investment in South Africa and Occidental’s lack of investment in multicultural education,” Obama said, before he was carried off. Though the rally had no effect on the former (the college didn’t divest), Occidental’s minority population, which is now over forty per cent, has since quadrupled.

Thus making Occidental the 13th most diverse liberal arts college among hundreds in the U.S., as I noted in a roundup of the unrest there. And expect more:

Some students said they believe administrators are hoping that the protests will die down soon, especially because finals and Thanksgiving break are approaching. “This is just the beginning,” Riley said. "There will be [a demonstration] the first day after break.”

Zooming out, Mother Jones takes stock of the most notable campus protests so far and provides a map: