Yesterday afternoon, a student demonstration took place at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), where students of marginalized identities demanded administrative officials accommodate their specialized needs on campus. Their demands include a permanent resource center; the immediate creation of two diversity positions for student affairs and faculty; and a general education requirement for ethnic, racial, and sexuality theory; along with over a dozen other demands listed in their original letter to President Hiram Chodosh sent earlier this year. The demonstration’s organizers include the CMCers of Color, the Brothers and Sisters Alliance (BSA), Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), Asian Pacific American Mentors (APAM), and GenU.
At the demonstration, students vocalized their demands, emphasizing that they want everything done on their own terms. “We don’t want a center for free speech meant to educate white students,” one protestor asserted. “We want a center that supports marginalized students first and foremost.” When students demanded that President Chodosh commit to giving them a temporary and eventually permanent space on campus, he initially said that he could not commit to a temporary space, but is working on a permanent space at this time. But after about 5 minutes of students speaking out against him, President Chodosh said he would love to transform the Hub, CMC’s student food store and central lounge, to provide them with a temporary space. In a swift, executive decision, CMC Student Body President Will Su dedicated part of the student government office as a temporary space, ordering the administration to give these students a permanent space immediately.
“To the administration as a whole, we require greater diversity in our faculty and staff,” stated the protest leader. “The need for such programs to educate the student body is eminent [sic] by the numerous microaggressions felt by students of color.” Students of color called out racially-insensitive professors for making them feel unsafe. “We want mandatory and periodic racial sensitivity trainings for all professors,” one protestor stated. “How are students supposed to learn in the classroom when they don’t even feel safe? When their own professors, someone who is supposed to be a mentor to them, a teacher, doesn’t even respect their identities? We want more diverse course offerings for critical race theory, community engagement, and social justice issues.”
The Dean of Students, and specifically Dean Mary Spellman, faced the brunt of the complaints. In the past few days, an “offensive” email sent by Dean Spellman was widely circulated on Facebook and prompted calls for her resignation. In the email, Dean Spellman responded to an article that voiced concerns by a student of color, stating that she wants to better serve students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.” Her comment outraged several students of color, and the email was cited as another example of institutional racism at CMC. Since then, students have demanded that Dean Spellman resign from her position, with a few students on a hunger strike that won’t end until she does so. Dean Spellman apologized multiple times over email and at the demonstration for her “poorly worded” statement, but students still demand that she resign.
One of the other main catalysts for the demonstration was a photo of four CMC students from Halloween, where two white students dressed in stereotypical Mexican clothing and were condemned for cultural appropriation. A student of color wrote the original post: “For anyone who ever tries to invalidate the experiences of POC [people of color] at the Claremont Colleges, here is a reminder of why we feel the way we do. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting, don’t tell me I’m being too sensitive. My voice will not be silenced.” The post was also widely circulated on Facebook over the weekend and prompted several other students of color to speak out. Students condemned CMC’s junior class president, who was in the photo holding the sign that said “Sorry” (dressed as a Justin Bieber back-up dancer), for being complicit in cultural appropriation and demanded her resignation.
The junior class president resigned on November 10 in an email, apologizing for being a bystander in the situation. “I promise to speak up and act out when I witness offensive and harmful behaviors in our community,” she wrote. “I promise that I won’t let my fears get in the way of standing up for something that is right, and something that continues to be a necessary dialogue here at the Colleges. Most importantly, I promise to be more conscientious of what I say and do and truly think about the parties that can be affected.”
The demonstration yesterday afternoon was preceded by a campus-wide letter that the groups sent out that morning. The letter explained the ways in which the administration has failed to address their concerns in the past. Students of marginalized identities described their campus experience with words like “misunderstood,” “intimidated,” “don’t belong,” “fragmented,” “excluded,” “daunting,” “conflicted,” “isolated,” and “scared.”
Students reported that professors “constantly mistake them for another student of color in class” which shows that “teachers characterize and distinguish them by their skin color and not by their personhood.” Additionally, students complained that CMC’s Crime and Public Policy course “does not offer readings with perspectives of people of color” and that the Civil War history simulation about the pros and cons of slavery is “extremely insensitive” and “hurtful.” CMC’s economics professors were targeted for having a “clear bias” against people from low-income backgrounds. Students reported that these professors used terms like “Welfare Queen” and had chastised poor people in their classes. They also criticized a new faculty member for “asking for examples of microaggressions,” which, to them, reflected “the lack of comprehensive training on racial sensitivity” among CMC’s faculty.
Students also complained about the Dean of Students. They stated that the Dean of Students’ First Year Guide and Resident Assistant training schedules included visits to the offices of Black Student Affairs and Chicano Latino Student Affairs, but not to the Asian American Resource Center. Apparently, the Deans’ exclusion of this visit “perpetuated the incorrect and problematic belief that Asian American students do not suffer from discrimination and racism and thus do not need resources.” Students then reported instances of when the Dean of Students dismissed complaints about LGBTQ-related offenses, accusing them of providing “inadequate resources” to change campus climate or support hurt students.
After listing over twenty complaints, the letter states, “We ask that the administration not get lost in the details of these events and in assigning guilt, but rather take responsibility as a whole for these actions and move forward with supporting students of marginalized identities.”
“For those administrators and professors who have not been involved in the efforts to create a resource center, you are not absolved of contributing to the discrimination and indifference that marginalized students have faced at CMC,” the letter continues. “Silence is oppression. We expect you to reflect on our proposals and implement swift and impactful changes to make your departments more inclusive, supportive, and accessible to students of marginalized identities.”
The letter ends, “To the department heads receiving this letter: if you stand in solidarity with us, please forward this to all the faculty in your department. We ask you to hold an emergency meeting to discuss how to better support marginalized students and to affirm our efforts and need for space.” This week, several classes have been cancelled, shortened, or used as discussion periods, and assignment deadlines have been extended.