California State University San Marcos Students Protest Chief Diversity Officer’s Dismissal

Students at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) continue what has become a nearly month-long protest over the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Student protestors, led by a coalition of student-run organizations, say that while the university touts an economically and ethnically diverse student body, it doesn’t practice those values.

“The fact that we have had this kind of passion and this kind of energy [from students protesting] I see as rather exciting. Now the content of their concerns is something we need to look at,” Patricia Prado-Olmos, interim chief diversity officer and vice president of community engagement at CSUSM, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The protests were sparked by and have largely focused on the sudden departure of the university’s former chief diversity officer, Arturo Ocampo, who joined CSUSM as associate vice president for the Office of Diversity, Educational Equity, and Inclusion in 2013. Administrators announced Ocampo’s exit from the university in a February 1 email to the campus community.

Many students and faculty have described him as a leader in advancing diversity on campus and as someone who challenged the university on issues of equality — what they cite as the reason for his termination. Students have been seen on campus holding banners that read, “Why did you fire our diversity champion?”

Ocampo has not commented on the reason for his departure on advice from his attorney.

The February 1 email also included an announcement of the university’s plan to move its Office of Diversity into the Office of Community Engagement as part of a restructuring. Many students and faculty worried that this change would dilute the office’s efforts on campus. However, administrators said the move was meant to further integrate and support the office.

Last week, a group of 70 students and faculty members confronted CSUSM President Karen Haynes at a diversity forum to voice their disapproval of the office’s restructuring. They also presented her with a list of demands, including Ocampo’s reinstatement, the establishment of an on-campus black student center this year, gender-neutral bathrooms in all university buildings, greater prevention of on-campus sexual assaults, and increased funding for the school’s ethnic and women’s studies departments.

Following the forum, Haynes reversed her decision on moving the office, thus keeping it under the Office of the President.

Since then, university administrators have met with a group of students to discuss their demands and concerns, and additional meetings are planned.