The pandemic upended campus in 2020. In the midst of this public health emergency and the transition to remote learning, an emptied campus left Occidental’s administration dealing with unexpected economic fallout with the sudden loss of room and board fees, as well as reduced tuition revenue.
The subsequent tightened budgets and decreased staffing needs on campus prompted leadership to make the difficult decision to furlough 129 staff members—27 percent of the College’s non-faculty employees.
Just as the decision was made with collective input from staff, faculty, employee unions and student government leaders, the response to the furlough was similarly based around a collective ethos of care. To support colleagues who had been furloughed or otherwise affected financially by the pandemic, Occidental faculty, staff and students launched the Employee Relief Fund (ERF). A year after the ERF was established, this grassroots community effort raised more than $179,000 with funds going directly to more than 140 staff members.
The response toward mutual support and care was augmented during Oxy’s 2021 Day For Oxy, the College’s annual giving day. Inspired by the College community, professor of cognitive science Carmel Levitan and her partner Joshua Fisher put forth a dollar-for-dollar challenge during the event to spur additional gifts to the ERF. “With so many Oxy staff furloughed during the year of remote learning, we wanted to uplift this important initiative to help members of our community who were struggling to cover basic needs such as rent, food and medical expenses. We hoped the dollar-for-dollar challenge would inspire people who supported the general idea of a relief fund to be moved beyond intentions to take action and make their gifts,” Levitan said.
While much changed about the Occidental experience during those months of remote learning, the College’s pillar of community, along with excellence, equity and service, remained a constant. ERF Committee member Jim Tranquada, formerly Oxy’s director of communications, reflected, “The ERF was a chance to do something real and meaningful for our furloughed friends and colleagues at a time when everyone felt pretty helpless in the face of the pandemic. It was a privilege to be part of a critically important effort that drew support from every part of the Oxy community.”