This afternoon, Pomona College erased one anonymous message recently painted on Walker Wall—a wall dedicated to free speech—for being “an offensive message directed at an individual.” This message, since painted over by the college, was directed at Claremont McKenna College (CMC)—another college along with Pomona that makes up the Claremont Colleges consortium—Government Professor Charles Kesler: “Charles Kesler is a Nazi.” Kesler is a senior fellow at the conservative think tank, The Claremont Institute, and was named in POLITICO’s 2017 Top 50 list for his “strain of American conservative thought that offers some support for Trump’s ideas.” Another anonymous message painted on the wall was an anti-white statement: “The YT [white] mind is weak.” The anti-white message did not get removed. While the message directed at Kesler was promptly erased, the message’s words could still be clearly seen, as shown in the edited photo below:
The outline of the words “Charles Kesler is a Nazi” is still visible. This photo is edited for clarity.
The two statements—“Charles Kesler is a Nazi” and “The YT [white] mind is weak”—were painted next to each other, although it is unclear if they were painted by the same artist.
“The YT [white] mind is weak.”
“Charles Kesler is a Nazi.” This photo is unedited.
According to Pomona College’s student handbook, “[t]he College leadership recognizes Walker Wall (the ‘Wall’) as a [sic] unique and valuable public free speech space in the community. Administrators allow members of the community to pain on the Wall and thereby determine which postings remain and which are covered, replaced, or obliterated.”
However, “[i]n response to a small number of exceptional cases, the College has gradually developed a set of norms for the wall that resemble the standard constitutional norms toward free speech.” The college may paint over an postings if there is language is “obscene by community standard,” contains “specific threats or attacks on an individual,” and/or has “specific incitements to violence.”
In an email to all Pomona students, Janet Smith Dickerson—Interim Vice President for Student Affairs—told the college community that the college was “informed this morning that someone has painted on Walker Wall an offensive message directed at an individual…a group of students, staff, and faculty determine which postings remain and which are covered. This group met this afternoon and determined the writing on the wall to be in violation of established community norms, so the writing will be painted over this afternoon.”
However, last year in an interview with the Independent regarding a Walked Wall posting that read “F*ck Donald Trump” during the 2016 election cycle, former Pomona Dean of Students and politics professor Miriam Feldblum stated that “F*ck Donald Trump” did not violate the criteria for acceptable speech on Walker Wall because Donald Trump is a public figure. Feldblum went on to explain that administrators of the colleges were determined to be public figures, along with other well-known individuals. Although Kesler is a well-known conservative intellectual, with articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, according to an email to the Independent from Dickerson, Kesler, as an individual professor, is not a “public figure.”
Not all students were pleased with the college’s decision, seeing it as an attack on free speech—even if they disagreed with the posted content—especially with the ambiguity of Kesler’s status as a public figure. In a message to the Independent, Jacob Lubert, a junior at Pomona College, said “[t]he school has not adequately explained how this violates their so called ‘free speech code.’ A puerile, inaccurate slander such as this should be left for all to see.”
“The decision to remove the quote seems to be more of a PR move than a genuine commitment to expose this breed of infantile, uninformed behavior,” he added, referring to the content of the message itself.
William Newman, a senior at CMC who has taken Kesler’s classes, told the Independent that “calling him [Kesler] a Nazi would probably make him chuckle because he knows that he is the farthest thing from it.”
“Having been in Professor Kesler’s classes, he is one of the few individuals who fosters and encourages intellectual curiosity for its own sake. Moreover, Charles Kesler cultivates the soul. When I say the soul, Professor Kesler seeks to challenge one’s assumptions and beliefs through rigorous intellectual inquiry. His concern moves past the mind and into the moral character of his students, asking them to develop their own system of values with curiosity, depth, compassion and good cheer. He believes in the foundations of Western liberalism and that the key to enlightening individuals is through education, debate, free speech and exercising free will. Any notion that the man would desire to impose his beliefs on others is simply preposterous and if others find his ideas challenging their own, I know he would gladly field their questions and concerns. Nazism is rooted in intolerance of others. Charles Kesler remains one of the most respectful and profound thinkers of the Claremont Colleges and most likely in the United States. He defends conservatism because he believes in it. He does not belittle, he simply challenges the conventional (and frequently intolerant) campus climate. To call him a Nazi is disrespecting an individual who values free speech, justice, liberty and the contest of ideas,” Newman wrote.
Dickerson told the Independent in an email that the committee which decided to take down the post targeting Kesler included Dean Christopher Waugh—Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life—, Professor Paul Cahill, associate professor Romance Languages and faculty-in-residence on North campus, and student representatives from the Associated Students of Pomona College, the college’s student body government.
This incident comes on the heel of a POC (person of color) only pool party at Scripps College being canceled after significant backlash ensued. A POC-only rock climbing event thrown by Pitzer College’s Rock Climbing Club is still scheduled to occur in the upcoming weeks.
The Independent has reached out to Kesler on this matter, but has not received a response at the time of publication.
The Independent received a response from Dickerson answering its inquiries about the individuals who composed the committee deciding to remove the post targeting Kesler and whether the college determined Kesler to be a “public figure” after publication. This article has been updated to include Dickerson’s responses.