Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative

“As an African American, I have felt deeply each blow, each knee to the neck, each bullet that has extinguished the lives of my fellow brothers and sisters. I have spent my professional life trying to understand the sources of that violence and developing policies and programs to address it.”

President Melvin L. Oliver, May 30, 2020

Continuing acts of racialized violence and the mobilization efforts by the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies to fight for racial justice provide an important backdrop for scholars and students to analyze this unique moment in time. In an effort to support productive discussion, analysis, and activism, the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative provides funds for three primary prongs: curricular transformation, co-curricular transformation, and structural transformation. Together, these are designed to deepen student, staff, and faculty knowledge and action around racialized violence.

Under the leadership of Associate Dean of Faculty Adrian Pantoja and the initiative’s organizing committee, the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative aims to embed the study of racial justice throughout every aspect of the Pitzer educational experience.

Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver, who co-authored the groundbreaking book Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality, launched the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) in 2020. After President Oliver announced that he would retire at the end of June 2022, RJI was renamed the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative to honor Oliver’s tenure as the sixth president of Pitzer College, his fight for equity and against injustice, and his 45-year career in higher education and philanthropy.

If you would like to support the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative, please visit Pitzer College’s donation page.

Initiatives in Motion

Keynote Events

Literature and the Everyday (Re) Making of Brazil

Gleisson Alves Santos image

This presentation introduces important Brazilian writers and the politics of their works in the everyday (re)making of Brazil. Although Brazil concentrates a large population of racialized people, it is still a country with high levels of inequalities. Due to that, there is a history of actions and movements, in Brazil, that has been addressing, in different ways, aspects concerning the country’s issues. Among many of these political actions for social justice, there is literature. That way, many writers, such as Black writers, produce a range of literary works that not only affect and modify discourses that sustain inequalities in Brazil, but also produce new and liberating discourses. Therefore, this presentation will introduce some of these writers and their works. In addition, this presentation will also briefly discuss the politics and impacts of such works.

Screening & Discussion: The Barber of Little Rock

Join a special screening of the 2024 Academy Award-nominated short film, The Barber of Little Rock, followed by a discussion with co-director John Hoffman and the titular barber himself, Arlo Washington. This event was co-sponsored by the Presidential Initiative on Constructive Dialogue.

View the event recording

The Barber of Little Rock explores America’s widening racial wealth gap through the story of Arlo Washington, a local barber whose visionary approach to a just economy can be found in the mission of People Trust, the nonprofit community bank he founded. Experiencing the effects of generational poverty and structural racism firsthand, Arlo understands his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas and the profound mistrust of financial institutions that have historically excluded his community from financial stability and economic mobility. Operating as the sole bank within a ten-mile radius, Arlo’s People Trust fosters economic progress for underserved and underbanked residents, providing an economic beacon of hope that could reshape the future of banking.

The film is part of the The New Yorker Documentary Series, a showcase for important short films from around the world, and is available on the magazine’s digital channels.

John Hoffman co-directed the film with Christine Turner. Hoffman is also a producer who is recognized for The Antidote (2020)Allegra’s Window (1994) and The Alzheimer’s Project (2009), among other films.

Anna Malaika Tubbs: The Three Mothers

Have you ever thought about the contribution of mothers in shaping our nation in the face of patriarchy? Did your K-12 history books give a nuanced understanding of the Civil Rights Movement? We unpacked these questions and more in the first installment of the Presidential Initiative on Constructive Dialogue. This event was co-sponsored by the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative.

View the event recording

Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative Distinguished Lecture

The 2022 Midterm Elections
A discussion on the 2022 midterm elections and broader issues around multiracial coalitions and diversity in the electorate.
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Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative Distinguished Lecture

Deirdre Cooper Owens is a proud graduate of two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the all-women’s Bennett College and Clark Atlanta University. She earned her Ph.D in history at UCLA and has had a number of prestigious fellowships at the University of Virginia, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and as a Big Ten Academic Leadership Fellow. As one of the country’s most “acclaimed experts in U.S. history,” according to Time Magazine, Copper Owens is steadily working towards making history more accessible and inspiring for all.

Talk: Post-Detention Experiences of Central American Asylum Seekers in the United States

A virtual talk with Cecilia Menjívar, UCLA professor of sociology and American Sociology Association president

Watch the Video and read the transcript

Professor Cecilia Menjívar holds the Dorothy L. Meier Social Equities Chair and is a professor of sociology at UCLA. She specializes in immigration, gender, family dynamics, social networks, and broad conceptualizations of violence. She has authored and edited multiple books, including Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America. A John S. Guggenheim Fellow and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow, she is currently president of the American Sociological Association.

This virtual talk is the third in the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative’s fall 2021 speaker series. Register now or watch via live stream on Pitzer’s social media platforms.

For more information, contact Pitzer Professor and Associate Dean Adrian Pantoja at [email protected]

Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative Speaker Series: Environmental Justice in Indian Country

A virtual talk with educator and author Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Watch the video and read the transcript

Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) is a lecturer of American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos and an independent educator in American Indian environmental policy and other issues. She is the author of two books, including the award-winning As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock

This virtual talk is the second in the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative’s fall 2021 speaker series, which is moderated by Pitzer Professor and Associate Dean Adrian Pantoja. Created by President Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College’s Racial Justice Initiative aims to address the underlying causes of injustice, inequity, and racial violence. The Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative Speaker Series is part of the College’s efforts to infuse racial justice throughout Pitzer’s academic and campus life while examining the College’s own policies and practices and exploring how Pitzer can be a broader agent of change.

If you missed the first fall talk, “Politics of Belonging and Exclusion: Orientalism and Racialization of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.” with Karam Dana, you can watch it now on demand

For more information, contact [email protected].

Karam Dana - Politics of Belonging and Exclusion

Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative Speaker Series: Politics of Belonging and Exclusion
September 17

Watch the video and read the transcript.

Karam Dana is the Alyson McGregor Distinguished Professor of Excellence and Transformative Research and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Washington Bothell. The founding director of the American Muslim Research Institute, Dana is one of the earliest scholars of Islam and Muslims in the US.

Part of the Melvin L. Oliver Racial Justice Initiative speaker series, this is the first event of the fall 2021 semester.