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Occidental College is a small, private, coeducational liberal arts college located in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. Founded in 1887, Occidental College, or "Oxy" as it is called by students and alumni, is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. The college is noted for its combination of rigorous academic programs, a small yet diverse student body, and the resources of one of the world's major cities. Occidental has recently gained greater attention through President Barack Obama, who attended the college for two years from 1979-81 before transferring to Columbia University.


Highland Park campus, 1904.


Occidental College was founded on April 20, 1887, by a group of Presbyterian clergy and laymen. The college’s first term began a year later with 27 men and 13 women students, and tuition of $50 a year. Initially located in Boyle Heightsmarker, the college moved to a new campus in Los Angeles’ Highland Parkmarker neighborhood in 1898. Despite a strong Presbyterian presence on its campus, Occidental cut ties to the church in 1910. In 1912, the school began construction of a new campus located in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rockmarker neighborhood. The Eagle Rock campus was to be designed by noted California Architect Myron Hunt. That same year, Occidental President John Willis Baer announced the trustees’ decision to convert Oxy into an all-men’s institution. However, students protested, and the idea was abandoned.

Move to Eagle Rock

Two weeks after Booker T. Washington came to visit Occidental, on March 27, 1914 — the school’s 25th anniversary, Swan, Fowler, and Johnson halls were dedicated at its new Eagle Rockmarker campus. The Eagle Rock campus covers over 120 acres (0.5 km), much of which is undeveloped land on a hill known as “Mt. Fiji.” In April 1917, the college formed an Army Corps to aid the war effort. The college opened its Hillside Theatre in 1925, and a student union in 1928. During World War II, many students left Occidental to fight the war. In July 1943, 53 students established a Navy V-12 unit on campus and left for active duty.

"A little giant"

In 1962, Time Magazine described Occidental as a little giant in a story about the college’s rise to national prominence. Indeed, this moniker was characteristic of the college’s growth.

During the late 1960s, a strong anti-war sentiment made its presence felt at Occidental. The students’ activism was characteristic of a rise of liberalism across campus. In 1969, the school opened its first two co-ed dormitories, and two more followed a year later. On May 6, 1970, the faculty voted to suspend classes in the wake of the Kent State shootingsmarker 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.

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. During the 1984 Olympic Games, some track events were held at Occidental’s Patterson Field. By 1986, for the first time since World War II, women students outnumbered men. Today, the college is approximately 60 percent female and 40 percent male; roughly equivalent to the national average. On July 1, 2006, Susan Prager became Occidental’s first female president. She then left her position in 2007 during the fall term.. On July 1, 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 Angelenomarker.

Academics, resources, and rankings

Student profile
  • 1,825 students from 46 states, the District of Columbia and 21 foreign countries
  • 56 percent women, 44 percent men
  • 6.8 percent African American
  • 14.9 percent Asian American
  • 55.6 percent Caucasian
  • 2.7 percent international
  • 15.2 percent Latino/a
  • 1 percent Native American
  • 8 percent declined to state

Faculty profile
  • 150 full-time faculty
  • 6.7 percent African American
  • 12.6 percent Asian American
  • 13.3 percent Latino/a
  • 45 percent women, 55 percent men

The academic quad at night

Core program

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;
  2. complete a set number of courses in geographical areas, languages, and the arts;
  3. complete three math and science courses; and
  4. pass a senior-year comprehensive examination within the student’s chosen major.

First-year seminars (8 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.

Johnson Hall, one of the three original buildings of the 1914 campus

Student research

Occidental provides its students unique opportunities to research in their chosen field. Many students collaborate on research with their professors in the lab, at other local institutions, including the City of Hope National Cancer Research Center, and overseas. Research fellowships are provided to students in all fields of study. Over the past five years, more than 280 students received funding to undertake joint research with faculty—research that often results in co-authored publication in peer-reviewed journals.

International programs

Many Occidental students participate in off-campus programs in the United Statesmarker and in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Oceania. Annually, nearly one third of the junior class partakes in a semester abroad.

Occidental offers a unique Occidental-at-the-United Nations Program in New Yorkmarker. When selected, students intern in the United Nations Secretariat or with a related institution, such as the US State Departmentmarker or an international NGO. Some students also study in Washington, D.C.marker through American Universitymarker.

Occidental is among a handful of American colleges that participates in the Richter Summer Research Program, in which students compete for a chance to pursue independent research or creative work anywhere in the world. Exchange students also are welcomed to Occidental. The school maintains exchange agreements with the University of Bristolmarker, Cambridge Universitymarker, University of East Angliamarker, University of Sussexmarker, and the Chinese University of Hong Kongmarker.


Occidental College is one of the top colleges on the West Coast. In U.S. News and World Report's 2010 rankings of American liberal arts colleges, Occidental is ranked 33rd. The 2007 Princeton Review describes Occidental as having a “rising star quality” and notes that Occidental’s professors have been called “top quality.” The 2006 edition of America's Best Value Colleges by the Princeton Review noted that the college “is committed to recruiting top students regardless of their financial background.” The College Prowler says that people “look at Occidental degrees very highly,” but that Occidental often does not receive the attention it deserves.


Thorne Hall
Architect Myron Hunt, who also designed the Rose Bowl Stadiummarker, designed Oxy's original buildings in a Mediterranean style, with covered walkways and tile roofs. Currently, there are 12 on-campus residence halls. The three original buildings of the 1914 campus still stand today, although seismic concerns have limited them to classrooms and academic offices. Most of the rest of the buildings match the original style with a few exceptions. The Arthur G. Coons Administration Building has been dubbed "the Chrysler Showroom" by campus wags — a reference to its boxy glass lobby. As the seat of power, Coons has also been compared to Foucault's "panopticon." The most notable aberration, however, is Stearns Hall, which has been described as "Barbie meets Escher" for its angular, post-modern style and its shrunken scale (it is supposedly built at 90% of scale, an idea supported by the feeling of claustrophobia often encountered there). The Hameetman Science Center, designed by the firm of Anshen+Allen and built in 2003 to provide new research facilities for Occidental's geology and physics departments also deviates from the original architecture with its large glass windows and metal balconies. Its lobby also houses a large Foucault pendulum. Occidental's newest building, the 278 bed Rangeview Residence Hall, opened in January 2008 at a cost of a reported 38.8 million dollars and is the first residence hall built in 25 years. Rangeview features dormitories with private bathrooms, lounges, study rooms, classrooms, a 24-hour gym and an underground garage, making it Occidental's only hybrid building.


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 19 varsity sports teams and a program of club sports and intramural competition. Approximately 25 per cent of the student body participates in a varsity sports program.

During the 2006–2007 athletic season, the Tiger’s cross country, American football and basketball teams were Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champions. The school’s Blackshirts Rugby union team was also league champion for the first time in five years. In addition the college boasts a competitive and growing elite dance team that also performs at every home football and basketball game.

Notable faculty

Herrick Interfaith Center, built 1964, with Water Forms II in the foreground.
Several Occidental professors have received awards in recent years and some have held prominent positions in government and the private sector:

Notable alumni

Barack Obama
Patt Morrison
Luke Wilson
Ben Affleck
Jack Kemp

Film and television at Occidental

Occidental’s campus, architecture, and proximity to Hollywood have made it a desired location for a number of film and television shots. Credits include:

TV credits include Dragnet, The West Wing (2002), Monk , Charmed, The L Word, Criminal Minds, Beverly Hills 90210 (1993-97), Greek and a host of other shows and made-for-TV movies, including Lou Grant, Remington Steele, and Cannon.

In literature

  • Aldous Huxley was close friends with college president Remsen Bird during Huxley's time living in Southern California. He spent much time at the college during this period and the college is portrayed under the name of Tarzana College in his 1939 satirical novel After Many a Summer. Huxley also incorporated Bird into the novel.
  • Gary Shteyngart's novel, Absurdistan, is partly set at the apocryphal "Accidental College," which is clearly a riff on Occidental's name, though its Midwestern setting is more akin to Shteyngart's alma mater, Oberlinmarker.
  • Barack Obama's memoir, "Dreams from My Father" he talks about his and several other African American students' campus activism.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald's untitled sixth novel contains several references to Occidental College, though in his book it has been overrun by a group claiming to be the Lords of Bognor .

Academic majors

Arts & Humanities

Social Sciences


Interdepartmental Majors

Academic Minors



External links

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