Externalizing Risk Over Common Sense: CMC DOS’ Shifting Priorities
“I’m going to move off-campus next year because, before you know it, this campus is going to be completely dry.”
This sort of talk, which was unthinkable even a few short years ago, has become common at Claremont McKenna College, as students have begun to feel helpless in the face of a draconian Dean of Students office (DOS). What began as simple disbelief and confusion after the dodgeball tournament “Rage in the Cage” was canceled on Nov. 1 has progressed to disillusionment about the very fabric of CMC’s culture.
On that now-infamous day, the DOS went from approving a registered, dry party to telling students to go drink in their rooms. According to CMC’s current Student Activities Chair (SAC), Mark Blumenfeld, this drastic shift seemed to have happened completely abruptly, as he was only made aware of the cancellation the day before the event was to occur. Due to this last-minute change of plans, CMC students who had been planning on going out Saturday evening were forced to find a way find a new venue in which to entertain themselves.
This resulted in a North Quad gathering, which was perfectly normal by 5C standards. Even though, as per usual, steps were taken by the SAC and various RAs to make sure the party stayed safe, such as moving students outside of lounges to prevent property damage and student injury, it was personally shut down by Dean Spellman and Dean Voss because, in a bit of bureaucratic irony, the gathering was not registered properly. When asked what they should do now, students were told by Dean Vos to “go drink in your rooms.”
That night, the Deans made the collective, decisive and unmistakably clear choice to prioritize reducing legal liability over student safety and, consequently, the culture that has made CMC the happiest college in the U.S. While the night of Nov. 2 aptly epitomizes the current stance of the Dean of Students office toward the CMC social scene, the decision to shut down the party is only a small step in the CMC administration’s longer term change in policy with regards to the social scene.. This, however, is not a change in CMC’s rules, which have always complied with local, state, and national laws.
As far as the administration is concerned, it would be better for CMCers to create fraternities so that, should anything happen to a student, the parents (and college) could sue the fraternity. Unfortunately, this goal goes directly against what CMC has and should stand for, student safety. What was great about CMC was its mature, rational, and open view of drinking, preferring to help students in trouble rather than leaving them in their rooms by themselves. But, by implementing policies that encourage students to drink in private, the administration is promoting an unrestrained binge-drinking culture. In their rooms, with nothing to do, students will look to excessive, private drinking as a replacement to what used to be a vibrant social life at CMC.
The administration’s new hardline against CMC’s social culture is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As discussed above, by attempting to reduce legal risk, the administration’s actions will result in more instances of hospital transports and alcohol poisoning than ever before. Of course, they will then try to blame the students and put in place further restrictions on the social scene in the name of “prevention,” which will begin a terrible cycle that threatens to undermine student safety and destroy the social culture.
We have already seen this happen. Even though the DOS has taken a noticeably harder line on alcohol and partying this semester, according to the SAC, Toga Party resulted in five hospital transports, (a new record number of transports for one party at CMC). Consequently, DOS decided to blame the student body and placed further restrictions on the social scene (as seen on Nov. 1) without thinking about who would have been there to help if these five transported students had been drinking in their rooms instead of at Toga?
Unfortunately, though, all of the student frustration over these misguided and dangerous policies seems to be in vain. As expressed to me by the SAC, the DOS has been exceedingly difficult to talk to this semester, especially compared to previous years. For example, the SAC told me that he has been turned away from scheduled meetings with the DOS on multiple occasions. He has effectively been “stonewalled,” even though he is the student body’s elected representative and main point of contact with the administration regarding the social culture.
And it’s not just the SAC who is having trouble talking to the DOS. We at the Claremont Independent have tried multiple times to talk with the DOS only to be rejected or, usually, completely ignored. So much for the idea of that “safe and welcoming place” that the DOS so cheerfully claims to be on its website.
In my discussion with the SAC, the only hope he had for the future was that the Alcohol Taskforce, a committee whose purpose would be to “discuss alcohol and campus life in greater depth than had been reviewed before” and submit a report to CMC President Chodosh, would be reinstated, and that the DOS would actually listen to its findings. This is similar to Chodosh’s recently proposed “alcohol and drugs subcommittee” that he proposed to in an email to the CMC student body on November 22. In light of the DOS completely shrugging off students’ views this semester, however, the potential effectiveness of the subcommittee, or taskforce, is limited at best. The best-remaining hope is that the Board of Trustees, who dictate how the DOS should act, decide to change the administration’s policy that is crushing the inclusive and safe social culture that CMCers past and present so dearly love. In the end, CMC is only as good as its students and their well-being, a lesson that the DOS has been slow to learn and quick to forget.