In an open letter to the Board of Trustees at Scripps College, Students For An Accountable Scripps, a student activist organization, called for the firing of Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson. The student activists accuse Johnson, who is Black, of anti-Black behavior and negligence of students during the coronavirus pandemic, including the underfeeding of students who stayed on campus during the spring 2020 semester.
One of the core complaints of the letter is Johnson’s alleged anti-Black behavior, exemplified by calling Black students by the names of other Black students:
“Dean Johnson has demonstrated unprofessionalism and disrespect through a pattern of calling Black students by the names of other Black students. For students who already experience acute systemic oppression within the institution it is especially painful to experience disrespect as an individual on an interpersonal level. Further, this is directly tied to race and is a very specific experience for Black people, implying they lack individuality. To do this says that their names are not worth remembering, that they are not worth remembering.”
The letter states an example of this behavior when “one student explained that she was consistently called the name of another Black student who was three years older and several shades lighter. A second student shared that over the past three years, Dean Johnson also called her the name of another Black student despite being corrected everytime. This student explained how ‘hurtful [it was] to be disregarded as an actual individual and be confused with another Black student especially by a Black staff member. Dean Johnson never apologized for it, she simply laughed it off.’”
In their letter, the student activists cite a 2017 call for Johnson’s resignation over the suicide of a Scripps RA, which claims that Johnson “has repeatedly failed to support students.” The RAs at the time argued that Johnson has repeatedly proven “incapable of fulfilling [her role as advocate] and thus has left us without the advocate we need, deserve, and expect.” According to this petition, Johnson went on vacation soon after the incident “without delegating responsibilities appropriately.”
Students claimed that Scripps College President Lara Tiedens had dismissed concerns in the past by stating that Scripps has a “negative student body” and “that the only relationship current students and alums have is students complaining and asking for petition signatures.” Because of the perceived inability of the President to address their concerns, Students For An Accountable Scripps approached the Board directly in hopes that the organization’s “thoughtful engagement with alumni and the current student body when drafting this letter” would be meaningfully heard.
Students For An Accountable Scripps also claims that Johnson has shown a pattern of disrespect to students, particularly Black students, in her interpersonal dealings with them. The open letter states that Johnson has consistently confused the Black students’ names, including students three years apart. This, the student activists argue, “is directly tied to race and is a very specific experience for Black people, implying they lack individuality.” Johnson is herself Black, which one Black student said makes her forgetfulness especially hurtful.
Per the open letter, in addition to students of color, “Dean Jonhson’s unprofessionalism and disrespect…has also impacted student organizers and their work.” During a meeting with student activists demanding Scripps reduce its carbon footprint, Johnson “struggled to listen openly, as she was predominantly concerned they would organize and circulate a petition, asking the students to promise that they wouldn’t take that route.” According to the letter, she “was unable to provide sufficient resources, meet in a timely fashion, or help move communication and projects forward.”
Student activists also cite Johnson’s failures during the COVID-19 crisis as the primary driver behind the release of the open letter. According to the letter, when a Scripps student who had been exposed to COVID-19 warned the school that she might have the virus, the other students on campus were never informed of the situation nor “warned to practice extreme caution.” Her family, meanwhile, received no updates from the administration for several hours after their initial calls to campus security. When the student in question tested positive, she was given only twenty minutes to pack her things and leave campus, which the letter claims to have been an “unnecessarily short” timeline and “a cruel way to treat someone already going through an intense medical situation”
In the aftermath of the student’s removal from campus, Johnson apparently confined students to their rooms, even refusing to allow them to sit alone in the courtyard. In addition, though students were “consistently requesting and being denied access to masks,” the administration denied a donation of masks by a concerned citizen to the students remaining on campus. The situation was only rectified after the first student was diagnosed and a second was exposed.
The final point on the letter claims Johnson failed to provide students with adequate nutrition. One student stated that “due to the timing of receiving food, they often had to skip class due to the hunger.” Students with dietary restrictions were often left without options, while “[t]he snacks provided were inadequate to last for the week.” Some students claimed to have been given cans with no can opener, only to be met with surprise by the deans when they asked for the tools to be provided. Another stated that, due to the inadequacy of the food, she was losing weight against her will. Though students were asked to move out between May 16 and May 18, meals stopped being provided on May 15, leading one student to say that they “were starving for 2 to 3 days because meals had ended [before they had to move out].” Pomona College, a fellow member of the Claremont Consortium, continued providing meals until all students had left campus.
This article has been updated to reflect additional details in the letter.