Occidental College

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Occidental College
Formal Seal of Occidental College, Los Angeles, USA.svg
MottoOccidens Proximus Orienti (Latin)
Motto in English
The West is nearest the East
EstablishedApril 20, 1887
(historically Presbyterian)
Endowment$371.7 million (2016)[1]
ChairmanSusan Mallory
PresidentJonathan Veitch
DeanWendy Sternberg
Chairman of the Board of TrusteesChris Calkins '67
Academic staff
Students2,062 (Fall 2016)[2]
Undergraduates2,112 (Fall 2015)[2]
Postgraduates2 (Fall 2015)[2]
LocationEagle Rock, Los Angeles, California, United States
34°07′38″N 118°12′39″W / 34.12715°N 118.21090°W / 34.12715; -118.21090Coordinates: 34°07′38″N 118°12′39″W / 34.12715°N 118.21090°W / 34.12715; -118.21090
CampusUrban, Pastoral
120 acres (49 ha)
ColorsOrange and Black         
AthleticsNCAA Division IIISCIAC
Annapolis Group
Oberlin Group
Sports21 varsity teams
MascotOswald the Tiger
Occidental College Word Colors Logo.svg

Occidental College is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1887 by clergy and members of the Presbyterian Church, it is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. Occidental College is often referred to as "Oxy" for short.[4]

In 2017, the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings placed Occidental 27th on its list of liberal arts colleges in the United States.[5] The New York Times ranked Occidental No. 28 on its 2017 list of the most economically diverse U.S. colleges and universities.[6] The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching selected Occidental as a "community engagement institution".[7][8]

The college was named to the 2014 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll "with distinction".[9] Occidental is also one of the most racially diverse liberal arts colleges, with approximately 42% of the student body identifying as students of color.[10] The college is ranked No. 7 for liberal arts colleges and No. 17 for all undergraduate schools on Payscale.com's 2016-17 list of highest-paid graduates.[11] Oxy was ranked the sixth "Most Beautiful" college campus by Newsweek in 2012.[12]


Early history[edit]

Pershing Square campus, ca. 1896

Occidental College was founded on April 20, 1887, by a group of Presbyterian clergy, missionaries, and laymen, including James George Bell, Lyman Stewart, and Thomas Bard. The cornerstone of the school's first building was laid in September 1887 in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.[13] The college's first term began a year later with 27 male and 13 female students, and tuition of $50 a year.[14]

In 1896, the Boyle Heights building was destroyed by fire. The college temporarily relocated to the old St. Vincent's College campus on Hill Street before a new site was selected in Highland Park in 1898.[13] Eventually, the college erected three main buildings: the Academy Building, the Stimson Library, and the Hall of Arts and Letters (converted to apartments, the hall still stands today).[15] The Highland Park site was also bisected by the tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad,[15] and was the site of two presidential visits, first by William Howard Taft in 1909 and subsequently by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911.[15]

In 1909, the Pomona College Board of Trustees suggested a merger between Pomona and Occidental, but the proposal came to nothing.[16] The following year, the college severed formal ties with the Presbyterian Church and became a non-sectarian, non-denominational institution.[13][17] The small size of the 15-acre (6.1 ha) campus and the disruption caused by frequent freight trains pushed the college's trustees to find a new location.[15]


Highland Park campus, 1904
President William Howard Taft at Occidental in October 1911

In 1912, the school began construction of a new campus located in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood. The Eagle Rock campus was designed by noted California architect Myron Hunt, also known as the planner of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) campus and as designer of the Huntington Library and Art Gallery and the Rose Bowl. That same year, Occidental President John Willis Baer announced the trustees' decision to convert Occidental College into an all-men's institution. However, students and faculty protested, and the idea was abandoned.[18][19]

Two weeks after Booker T. Washington came to visit Occidental, on March 27, 1914, Swan, Fowler, and Johnson Halls were dedicated at its new Eagle Rock campus. Patterson Field, today one of the oldest collegiate sports stadiums in Los Angeles, was opened in 1916.[20] In April 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I, the college formed a Students Army Training Corps to aid the war effort.[14]

Occidental College in the 1920s

Under Occidental President Remsen Bird, the school opened a series of new Hunt-designed buildings, including Clapp Library (1924), Hillside Theatre and a women's dormitory (Orr Hall) in 1925, Alumni Gymnasium (1926), the Freeman Student Union (1928) and a music and speech building (1929).[21] The Delta of California Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was established at Occidental in 1926, at a time when the only other chapters in California were at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Pomona.[14]

During World War II, many students left Occidental to fight in the war. In July 1943, the U.S. Navy established a Navy V-12[22] officer training program on campus that produced hundreds of graduates before it was disbanded at the end of the war in 1945. Occidental President Remsen Bird worked behind the scenes to help Oxy students of Japanese descent continue their education despite mandatory evacuation orders; his letters are included in the Japanese American Relocation Collection in Clapp Library.[23]

After having its first Rhodes Scholar, Clarence Spaulding, named in 1908, Oxy seniors John Paden and Aaron Segal were awarded Rhodes Scholarships in 1958; the first and only time Occidental has produced two Rhodes Scholars in a single year.[24] Rhodes scholars Aaron Segal and John Paden were among the 10 Occidental students who participated in Crossroads Africa that year, a forerunner to the Peace Corps that later became a national program.[25]

In 1969, 42 students were suspended for peacefully protesting military recruiting on campus. One year later, faculty voted to suspend classes in the wake of the Kent State shootings and America's invasion of Cambodia. Subsequently, Oxy students wrote 7,000 letters to Washington D.C., protesting U.S. involvement in the war in Southeast Asia.[26] Occidental launched one of the country's first Upward Bound programs in 1966, aimed at increasing the number of low-income, underrepresented high school students who become the first in their family to go to college.

Also in 1969, the school opened its first two co-ed dormitories, and two more followed a year later. In 1988, John Brooks Slaughter became Occidental's first black president. Building on faculty and student advocacy and a series of grants the college had received previously to increase the diversity of the Occidental student body, Slaughter led the process of creating a new mission statement that is still used today.[27] Also, Slaughter led the college's community outreach expansion with the creation of the Center for Volunteerism and Community Service, the predecessor for the current Center for Community Based Learning.[28]


In July 2006, Susan Prager became Occidental's first female president. She left her position in 2007 during the fall term.[29] Robert Skotheim the former president of Whitman College and the Huntington Library, then served as interim president. In July 2009, Jonathan Veitch, formerly dean of The New School's Eugene Lang College, became Occidental's 15th president and the first to be a native Angeleno.[30]


Thorne Hall

Architect Myron Hunt created the original campus master plan for Occidental's Eagle Rock campus in 1911. He structured the campus in a Mediterranean style, with covered walkways and tile roofs. The campus landscape was designed and developed by Beatrix Farrand in the late 1930s. All of the 19 buildings designed by Hunt remain in use today, including Johnson Hall, now the home for the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs.[31][32]

Built on a hillside, the Eagle Rock campus covers over 120 acres (49 ha), some of which is undeveloped land that includes a local landmark known as Fiji Hill. There are 12 on-campus residence halls and the main dining facility is The Marketplace, which is located in the Johnson Student Center. Some buildings, such as the Hameetman Science Center (designed by Anshen + Allen, 2003), deviates from the original architecture with its large glass windows and metal balconies (its lobby houses a large Foucault pendulum). In 1979, Occidental installed Water Forms II (see image below), a kinetic fountain designed by professor George Baker. The fountain is a campus landmark and was featured prominently in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

The campus is also noted for its outdoor Bird Amphitheater, where between 1960 and 1996, a season of summer plays were performed, including Shakespeare plays and musicals. However, financial problems caused the Theater Department to end its summer programs forever. Very few plays have been performed ever since.

In 1989, The college dedicated the Keck Theater, a post-modern theater with a movable stage and seating arrangements for a variety of different types of shows. It was designed by the architectural firm of Kanmnitzer and Cotton. The James Barrie version of the play of Peter Pan was the first show performed at the opening ceremony in the summer of 1989.

Occidental College was ranked as the sixth "Most Beautiful" campus by Newsweek in 2012.[12] The school is home to a 1-megawatt ground-mounted solar array, which is the largest hillside array on an American college campus and the largest of its kind in Los Angeles.[33][34] The 4,886-panel installation was completed in Spring 2013 and inaugurated on the school's 126 year anniversary.[33]


There are 34 majors offered on campus (and nine minor-only programs, including Public Health, Linguistics, and Classical Studies) and a 9:1 student–faculty ratio. The average class size is 18 students and most students take four classes per semester.[35]

Since 1908, Occidental has graduated 10 Rhodes Scholars.[36] The 2017 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges gave Occidental four-star ratings (out of five) in academics and quality of life. Princeton Review's The Best 381 Colleges 2017 Edition gave Occidental ratings of 91 (out of 100) in academics and quality of life and 95 in financial aid. In Forbes' 2017 ranking of America's Top Colleges, Occidental ranks 99th.[37] In U.S. News & World Report's 2017 rankings of American liberal arts colleges, Occidental is ranked 44th.[38] Kiplinger’s Best College Values 2016 rankings places Occidental 58th among liberal arts colleges.[39]

Core program[edit]

Divided in three parts, the Core Program was designed by the faculty of Occidental to unify and enhance the liberal arts education offered by the school. The Core Program requires students to achieve the following:

  1. complete two first-year writing seminars; one course in the fall, another in the spring (called CSPs);
  2. complete a set number of courses in 3 of 6 available geographical areas worth at least 12 units: Africa and the Middle East, South, Central and East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the United States, Intercultural
  3. complete a 102-level language course or be exempt through four ways
  4. complete a course concerning the pre-1800s era and one focused on the fine arts
  5. complete three math and science courses; one has to be a lab science
  6. pass a senior-year comprehensive examination within the student's chosen major.[40]

First-year seminars (eight course hours in total) are the centerpiece of the Core Program. Students are given a variety of class choices to fulfill the seminar requirement and to satisfy the first-year writing requirement. While the classes range in topic, each is based on a curriculum of cultural studies. The classes are designed to expose students to the rigor of college academics and to the four principles of the college mission—Excellence, Equity, Community, and Service.

The Core Program's emphasis on global literacy requires students to take a minimum of three courses that touch on at least three of the following geographical areas: Africa and the Middle East; Asia and the Pacific; Europe; Latin America; the United States; and Intercultural. Students are also required to demonstrate proficiency in writing and in a foreign language and take courses in the fine arts and in the sciences, mathematics, or other courses that address formal methods of reasoning.

The final portion of the Core Program requires students to pass a senior comprehensive examination in their chosen field. Comprehensive examinations may include seminars, creative projects, fieldwork, oral exams, theses, or field research projects.

Exchange and cooperative joint degree programs[edit]

California Institute of Technology and Columbia University[edit]

Students at Occidental can take courses at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in nearby Pasadena free of charge. In addition, a 3-2 engineering program allows qualified students the opportunity to study at Occidental for three years, completing their undergraduate experience with an additional two years either at Caltech or Columbia University. At the end of the five years, the student receives two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in the Combined Plan from Occidental and a Bachelor of Science in the selected field of engineering from the engineering school.

Art Center College of Design[edit]

Art majors at Occidental College can take courses at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, one of the country's top-ranked art schools. The program is not open to first-year students, but as with the Caltech exchange program, students receive full course credit. No additional tuition payments are required.

Columbia University School of Law[edit]

With a competitive GPA and LSAT scores, Columbia Law School admits students upon completion of their junior year at Occidental into its Accelerated Interdisciplinary Program in Legal Education. Admittance to the program enables students to earn a bachelor's degree from Occidental and a law degree from Columbia in six years.

Keck Graduate Institute[edit]

Students who are interested in biotechnology and who become a biochemistry major maintaining a 3.2 GPA in the necessary courses will be guaranteed admission to the Keck master's in bioscience program. The Keck Graduate Institute is part of the Claremont Colleges consortium.

Student life[edit]

Samuelson is more commonly known as "the cooler" where students and faculty may go enjoy a meal or a quick snack.

At the beginning of every school year, freshmen participate in Convocation, a formal ceremony welcoming new students to the college in which the faculty wear their full academic regalia and students don robes.[41] Founders Day is celebrated annually at the school on April 20, the day in 1887 when Occidental's incorporation papers were officially signed by the California Secretary of State.[42]

For the first three years at Occidental, all students are guaranteed housing on campus and for seniors it is optional. Freshmen do not get to choose where they live; the Office of Residential Education & Housing Services arranges housing by pairing students based on a short form students fill in the summer before they arrive on campus. The Occidental College dorm life consists of 13 co-ed residential housing facilities.

After a student's first year, he or she can choose to live in a number of dorms that house sophomores, juniors, and seniors; one-third of all these halls are reserved for each grade. These dorms include Newcomb Hall, Wylie Hall, Erdman Hall, Haines Hall, Rangeview Hall and Stearns Hall.

There are also themed-living communities which consist of the Multicultural Hall in Pauley (open to all years), all-women housing (Berkus House, named after alumnus Dave Berkus), the E. Norris Hall, the Queer House, and the Food Justice house.[43]

Student activities[edit]

This is the Occidental College balcony that leads to the Market Place dining hall and the on campus cafe called "The Green Bean"

Occidental College has various student-run clubs, organizations and ventures such as the Green Bean Coffee Lounge, organic garden, and the student-managed bike sharing and repairing program. There are also traditional groups such as glee club, Greek organizations, and student media outlets.


The campus newspaper is the Occidental Weekly, an independent, student-run publication. It has been published continuously since 1893.[44] As of the 2016–17 school year, the Weekly publishes biweekly in print and weekly online.

KOXY is a student-run campus radio station, in operation in the 1960s and 1970s, and again since 2000.[45] It originally operated on the frequency 104.7 in and around campus from 1968 to 2009, but switched to only being available by webstream in 2009. KOXY sponsors several on-campus events.

In 2010, Occidental College launched a TV station called CatAList, launched by then-students Daniel Watson and Raffy Cortina;[46] Cortina was also the first Occidental student to be awarded with a Student Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his short Bottled Up.[47] The station produces 20–30 minutes of student-run content weekly on a variety of topics.

Greek life[edit]

Occidental College's Greek Council consists of eight members: local sororities Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha, Delta Omicron Tau; national sororities Sigma Lambda Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta; local fraternity Zeta Tau Zeta (co-ed), and national fraternities Kappa Alpha Psi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.[48] These greek organizations are social organizations as opposed to academic greek organizations. Occidental has a fall and a spring greek recruiting period; first year students are first eligible to participate in greek recruitment during the spring of their first year. Occidental also has two cultural greek organizations: Kappa Alpha Psi and Sigma Lambda Gamma. The college is working to expand their roster of greek organizations by adding Phi Beta Sigma, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta.[49]

Local involvement[edit]

There are various entities at Occidental College that promote local community involvement opportunities in Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Los Angeles. These include the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), the Office of Community Engagement (OCE), the Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL), the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP), and Upward Bound.


Johnson Student Center and Freeman College Union

Occidental is one of the five schools that founded the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in 1915 and is currently a member of the SCIAC and NCAA Division III. Occidental features 21 varsity sports teams and a program of club sports and intramural competition. Approximately 25 percent of the student body participates in a varsity sports program.[50]

During the 2006–2007 athletic season, the Tigers cross country, American football and basketball teams were Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions. In 2014, diver, Jessica Robson set the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference records for both 1m and 3m diving.[51] The school's Blackshirts Rugby union team was also league champion for the first time in five years. In 2011, Jeremy Castro ('99) and Patrick Guthrie ('86) steered the squad to a NSCRO final falling to Longwood University 36-27 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition the college has a dance team that also performs at every home football and basketball game.[50]

Occidental athletics date back to 1894, when the College helped organize the first intercollegiate athletic competition in Southern California.[52] Since then, Oxy has produced more than a dozen Olympians, world-record holders, and national champions, including two-time diving gold medalist Sammy Lee '43, pole vault silver medalist Bob Gutowski '57, and Pat Henry Yeomans ’38, the 1935 national girls’ tennis champion.

Occidental has long-standing football rivalries with Pomona College and Whittier College; the Tigers have played both the Sagehens and the Poets over 100 times. In 1982, the Occidental College football team had the rare opportunity for national prominence when, due to the 1982 National Football League strike, their game with San Diego was broadcast on national television. In 2017, Occidental cancelled the remainder of its football season due to lack of healthy players, as few as 30 in some cases. The team forfeited two games and was outscored in the other three 170-19.

In 2011, Occidental College lost a Basketball game to Caltech with a score of 46 to 45 giving the Caltech Beavers their first conference win in 26 years and putting an end to their 310-game losing streak.[53]

Famous Occidental College Tigers include NFL coach Jim E. Mora, former American Football League Most Valuable Player and politician Jack Kemp, former NFL player Vance Mueller, 2011 U.S. Senior Open Champion Olin Browne, CFL player Justin Goltz (Winnipeg Blue Bombers).

Herrick Interfaith Center, built 1964, with Water Forms II in the foreground.

Sexual assault complaints[edit]

A Federal civil rights complaint was filed in April 2013 by 37 current and former students stating that the school "deliberately discouraged victims from reporting sexual assaults" as well as misled some students about their rights during campus investigations and possibly retaliated against whistle-blowers. On September 18, 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that the college reached a settlement with 10 former and current students also alleging improper treatment of their sexual assault cases, on undisclosed terms.[54][55] On May 1, 2014, Occidental was named one of fifty-five higher education institutions under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights "for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints" by Oxy alumni, President Obama's White House Task Force To Protect Students from Sexual Assault.[56] In response to student and faculty outcry the college has taken various actions to combat sexual assault such as adopting a new interim sexual misconduct policy, hiring a former assistant district attorney, Ruth Jones, as a full-time, independent Title IX coordinator, and the school added a new 24-hour, 7-days-a-week telephone hotline. The school also created a permanent Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board made up of students, faculty and staff.[57][58][59]

In October 2014, a male Occidental College student filed a Title IX complaint against the college for its handling of a sexual assault complaint against him, alleging in part that Occidental was biased against him due to the April 2013 Title IX complaint. His accuser had verbally expressed her intent to have sex in text messages to him and a friend, came to his dorm room under her own power, told acquaintances that she was fine when they checked on her during part of the sexual activity, and texted smiley faces to friends immediately afterwards.[60] A police investigation found there was no basis for bringing charges against the male. The college still found him responsible on the basis that he should have known that she was too drunk to consent despite her explicit statements and behavior.[61] When the man, who was also very drunk the night in question, attempted to file an assault claim based on the incapacitated standard, the college refused to accept his complaint.[62] According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is not currently an open Office of Civil Rights investigation into this complaint.[63]

On June 9, 2016, the Office of Civil Rights announced it had concluded its investigation of the April 2013 complaint against Occidental. "Based on the factual information gathered to date during the investigation of this case and applying Title IX statutory and regulatory principles, OCR concluded that the preponderance of the evidence does not support a conclusion that the College violated Title IX, except with respect to the issue of promptness in several cases during the 2012-13 school years," Laura Faer, OCR chief attorney, wrote in a 30-page letter to Occidental President Jonathan Veitch summarizing the findings of the investigation.[64] According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of June 13, 2017 there were 335 open OCR investigations of alleged Title IX violations at colleges and universities. Occidental’s case is one of 62 resolved since the OCR signaled stricter enforcement of Title IX in April 2011.[65]


In 1913, the Occidental College Board of Trustees announced plans to convert the college exclusively to a men's school. The plans were met with widespread backlash from students and faculty who protested the change. The community outcry garnered national headlines and the board later dropped the proposal.[66]

English novelist Aldous Huxley, who spoke at Occidental's convocation ceremony in the then-new Thorne Hall in 1938, lampooned President Remsen Bird as Dr. Herbert Mulge of Tarzana College in his 1939 novel, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. Huxley was never again invited back to campus.[67]

In November 1990, the college, initially established as a Presbyterian institution, rededicated the campus' main chapel as the Herrick Memorial Chapel and Interfaith Center. The school also took down the crosses in the chapel in an attempt to "broaden Occidental's appeal among non-Christian students."[68]

President Barack Obama attended Occidental for two years prior to transferring to Columbia University. Following his election, unsubstantiated reports claimed that Obama's Occidental College revealed he received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia.[69] In 2012, Donald Trump offered the President $5 million to donate to the charity of his choice if he would provide his college transcripts and passport application.[70] The contents of both Obama and Trump's college records remain unknown.[71]

Notable alumni and faculty[edit]

Barack Obama

Notable graduates of Occidental College include filmmaker Terry Gilliam, football player and politician Jack Kemp, pioneering African-American physicist and inventor George Edward Alcorn Jr., former New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim E. Mora, co-inventor of the hard disk drive William Goddard, federal judge Jacqueline Nguyen, historian and chancellor of the California State University system Glenn Dumke, former Lieutenant Governor of California Robert Finch, adventurer and writer Homer Lea, poet Robinson Jeffers, librarian and writer Lawrence Clark Powell, civil rights activist Ernesto Galarza, television director Jesus Salvador Trevino, journalist and current dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Steve Coll, actor and writer George Nader, veteran executive at Walt Disney Imagineering Joe Rohde and CEO of Warner Music Group Stephen Cooper, and Wade Wilgus, the face in the head in a jar prank.

Notable attendees include former US President Barack Obama, former First Lady of Colorado Dottie Lamm, Academy Award–winning actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck, actor Luke Wilson, producer Todd Garner, writer/producer Dario Scardapane and actress Emily Osment.

Notable faculty members include the American urban policy analyst Peter Dreier, former US ambassador Derek Shearer, regular CNN and Fox News contributor Caroline Heldman, and the 2005 PEN American Center Literary Award winner in poetry Martha Ronk.

Film and television at Occidental[edit]

Occidental's campus, architecture, and proximity to Hollywood have made it a desired location for a number of film and television productions.[72]

Film credits include:

TV credits include:

See also[edit]


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