All posts by Elliot Dordick

Pitzer College President: Factual Reporting to Blame for “Violent Hate Speech”

On March 9, Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver released a presidential “Message to the Community” titled “Hate Speech is Not Free Speech” which was both posted on the College’s website and sent in an email thread to all students, faculty, and staff at Pitzer.

The public statement, a response to the article published by The Claremont Independent that sparked national conversation on PC culture, racism, and cultural appropriation on campus, reads:

“Dear Pitzer College Community, Coverage in a local publication of a recent posting on the free wall [by Latino students that instructed white women to ‘take off their hoop earrings’] has ignited a cycle of violent hate speech that threatens the safety and well-being of every member of our community. Some students are experiencing harassment and death threats. As a place of higher education, we strongly cherish and defend intellectual curiosity, productive discourse and opposing views that may broaden our perspectives as global citizens.

However, when speech resorts to hate, violence and threats, we will not tolerate these acts nor the perpetrators of these actions. If you have information that will help us bring those responsible to justice, please contact the Office of Student Affairs and the Claremont Police Department. Every individual is entitled to freedom from fear and stigma, and with the respect of others to pursue a life of meaning and purpose. Pitzer College supports greater acceptance, not less. However each of us chooses to respond to the challenges presented by these ill-considered, offensive and hateful actions, I encourage us to care for one another and focus on our shared positive values.”

In the rest of his message, Oliver encourages students, staff and faculty to participate in a “Healing Justice Workshop” hosted by Pitzer Professor Kathy Yep. “The workshop,” Oliver writes, “practices mindfulness in a way that creates a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world and does not cause harm to others.”

The statement closes by listing resources for psychological counseling, Black Student Affairs, Chicano Latino Student Affairs, the Chaplain’s office, the Queer Resource Center, the Office of the Dean of Faculty, and the Office of Student Affairs available for support on campus at the Claremont Colleges.


Photo: C. Wohlers/Flickr

Pitzer College RA: White People Can’t Wear Hoop Earrings

A wall on the side of a dormitory at Pitzer College devoted to unmoderated free speech through art (colloquially named “the free wall”), was recently painted by a group of Latino students who wrote the message, “White Girl, take off your [hoop earrings]!!!”

When one white student expressed confusion about the message, Alegria Martinez (PZ ’18) – a Pitzer College Resident Assistant (RA) and active member of the “Latinx Student Union” – responded in an email thread sent to the entire student body: “[T]he art was created by myself and a few other WOC [women of color] after being tired and annoyed with the reoccuring [sic] theme of white women appropriating styles … that belong to the black and brown folks who created the culture. The culture actually comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion. The black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings, (and other accessories like winged eyeliner, gold name plate necklaces, etc) are typically viewed as ghetto, and are not taken seriously by others in their daily lives. Because of this, I see our winged eyeliner, lined lips, and big hoop earrings serving as symbols [and] as an everyday act of resistance, especially here at the Claremont Colleges. Meanwhile we wonder, why should white girls be able to take part in this culture (wearing hoop earrings just being one case of it) and be seen as cute/aesthetic/ethnic. White people have actually exploited the culture and made it into fashion.”

Jacquelyn Aguilera (PZ ’19), another student claiming credit for the spray-painted message, responded to the school-wide email thread, “If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops / I use “those” instead of “your” because hoops were never “yours” to begin with.” Aguilera attached an image of herself and the others who spray-painted the wall exposing their own hoop earrings.

Pitzer’s website states that on the free wall  “you’ll find artistic representation of local and global issues that usually spark educational discussion across campus!”

Martinez and Aguilera declined the Independent‘s requests to elaborate on their comments.

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Photo: Elliot Dordick

Scripps College: Nonwhite Students Should Be Paid For Sharing Their Opinions

Scripps College resident assistants (RAs) recently hung two types of signs titled “Emotional Labor 101” across campus. One of the signs, printed on a white background, is titled, “Quick Guide For White Students.” The other poster, printed on black paper, is titled, “Quick Guide For People Of Color And Marginalized Backgrounds.”

Both signs, which are marked with the Scripps College administration’s stamp of approval, define “emotional labor” as “the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, educating, making people comfortable, or living up to social ‘expectations.’”  The sign addressing non-white students notes, “Victims of emotional labor can be cornered in the classrooms, on social media, or in social events. If you are constantly having to explain or defend this could be you.” The poster then asks, “What can I do about it?” and states, “First and Foremost: Take care of yourself. Decide if it’s worth your time. The burden does not rest on your shoulders! Remove yourself if possible/necessary. You don’t owe anyone anything at the expense of your mental health. / Second: If you do decide to engage, practice some of these tips to avoid overexertion for the sake of educating: Refer to a friendly Google search of the concept in question; Call in professors and white peers to help educate their peer(s); Charge for your services. If you’ve decided you’re going to do it, at least get paid; Visit your designated [dean of students on campus] to talk about ways to address the mental toll.”

The guide addressed to white students, rather than discussing the ways one can undergo “emotional labor,” asks “How do I know I’m causing someone emotional labor? Ask yourself these questions: Could I have Googled the answer but I chose not to? Do I find myself in a situation where people of color or people from a marginalized group are educating me? What power dynamics are at play? Do I find myself getting defensive? Are people telling me I’m causing them emotional labor?” The message to white students ends by listing options for “What can I do about [causing others emotional labor]?” The poster states that white students should “Be mindful of your place and position. Google it! Seek community of white people who are educating themselves/thinking about social justice issues. Compensate the labor you caused. Educate yourself, take advantage of ethnic studies courses, the internet, and SCORE [Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment] . Take ownership for the harm you caused. Do better next time!”

Neither the Scripps College nor the RAs whose email addresses are listed on the posters responded to requests for comment.

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Image: Olivia Wu

Scripps students: “Death to AmeriKKKA,” “F*** white people” is “valued speech”

This week, after Scripps College administrators demanded that the phrases “F*** Zionism”, “F*** white people”, “Death to AmeriKKKa” and others be removed from the chalkboard walls of its student-run Motley Coffeehouse, the café’s student management team is outraged that these messages, which it regards as “valued speech,” are being silenced.

The Motley, which previously made headlines for hosting events that excluded white people from the premises, calls itself “an intersectional, political, and feminist business” with a mission “to foster independent thinking and purposeful change.”   

According to a formal note from Scripps College administrators, the offending phrases violated the College’s Principles of Community, as they were not expressed in an appropriate “time, place, and manner.”  The phrases “may not be written on Scripps College property within a business establishment operated on campus,” though the note also stressed that college officials “are not taking the position that students may not intellectually subscribe to these statements or make them in an appropriate setting.”

In response to the administration’s order, “The Motley Manager Team” wrote and posted the following note on the coffeehouse wall at the center of the dispute:

“We are complying with the college, but we will not do so quietly. We call into question the swiftness with which Scripps College responds to speech that challenges systematically privileged identities, and we challenge the community to think critically about what speech makes them feel uncomfortable versus unsafe. We want the students who wrote these statements to know that their perspectives are valued in this space and that we will continue to resist Scripps’s effort to silence these perspectives in public spaces such as The Motley. / We recognize that erasing this board works to reinforce systems of power and oppression, and therefore we will not let this be where we let the story end. We urge the community to challenge each other and ourselves, and to destroy white supremacy, white privilege, colonialism, fascism, and (neo)liberalism on campus.”

This is not the first time that student speech has sparked controversy on campus. Last March, when the message “#Trump2016” was found scrawled on a whiteboard hanging in the hall of a student dormitory at Scripps College, student body president Minjoo Kim derided the “vandalism” as a “racist” act of “intentional violence” in a public address to the community.

Both the Scripps College administration and the management of the Motley Coffeehouse declined to comment upon request.

College Presidents Spread False Anti-Trump Narrative to Student Body

Earlier this week, presidents of the five Claremont Colleges joined over thirty peer institutions of higher education in denouncing President Trump’s recent executive order, which halts refugee immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days. Trump stated of the executive order, “America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border … The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.” However, the presidents’ emails to their respective student bodies described Trump’s policy as a ban on Muslim immigration.

Pomona College President David Oxtoby, for example, described Trump’s orders as “deeply troubling” examples of “xenophobia” and “religious discrimination.” President Oxtoby stated that “these actions tear at the fabric of who we are and what we aspire to be.” Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver went so far as to say that “President Trump has altered the American experience, and with it the vision of hope and unity previously shared by most of us.”

President Oliver’s statement continues, “three executive orders … have upended our policies of openness and welcoming,” claiming that the orders have “the practical effect of creating a religious ban against people of Muslim faith.” Though Trump’s orders would likely affect only around 200 million of over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, President Oliver told the Independent that he believes “America is more beautiful because of its inclusiveness, not despite it.” Oliver stated that “xenophobia – whether targeted at one … or 1.5 billion – goes against America’s founding values,” but did not specify why he thinks Trump’s orders amount to a Muslim ban or what about them is xenophobic.

While noting that Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pomona College currently enroll zero students from the seven countries named in the executive order, each of the school presidents made lengthy efforts to reiterate the availability of emotional assistance for students who “feel vulnerable.” President Lara Tiedens of Scripps College ended her own note by stating “We are fortunate to have such a strong network of active, informed, and compassionate individuals who are invested in preserving Scripps as a haven for inclusive excellence,” referencing a December statement naming Scripps “a sanctuary center of higher education” which would follow in the footsteps of Pomona College and Pitzer College to refuse compliance with federal law regarding immigration status.

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Image: Flickr

CMC Funds Racially Exclusive Program to Fight Racism

On January 25, Vince Greer – the Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity and Inclusion at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) – distributed the following message to the students, faculty and staff of the college:

“Dear CMC community, The Cultural Influences on Mental Health Center at CMC is offering a FREE 8-week compassionate meditation program for ethnic minority students to learn how to heal from racism- and race-related incidents. Students must identify as an ethnic minority, must have experienced race-related stress, and must have attended one of the Claremont Colleges for at least one semester. If you meet these requirements and are in need of such services, you are eligible to sign up!” [emphasis original.]

Dean Greer’s email continues to state that while Professor Wei-Chin Hwang will head the  healing program, it will be “co-led by two students.” Hwang is a tenured, full-time professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College with expertise in “Cultural Competency” and “Race & Social Problems.” Greer’s email to the community closes by making clear that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Claremont McKenna has approved the program.

Many students have expressed concerns about the racial exclusivity of the program. Shawn McFall, (CMC ’18), the President of the Claremont College Republicans, told the Independent, “I find it disturbing that school funding is supporting a cause which excludes the majority of CMC students. Too many school programming centers which claim to represent and foster diversity have become mere tools for exclusion.”

Alex Ohlendorf (CMC ’18) told the Independent, “It is troubling to see that CMC, an institution which just last year saw widespread movements against racism on campus, has approved and funded an event that specifically denies students the opportunity to participate on the basis of ethnicity. By creating such segregated programs, administrators only encourage political polarization and prevent dialogue.”

Following the above-mentioned protests at Claremont McKenna College in late 2015, President Hiram Chodosh wrote publicly that “We must ensure that each of our students shares a deep sense of belonging to the CMC community. Thus, I am committed to developing a thoughtful, productive, and responsible inclusion strategy, where every student is fully engaged and valued… No student or group on our campus should live and learn in isolation.”

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Image: Flickr

Pitzer College VP Defends Racist RAs Despite College President’s Condemnation

After several national media outlets covered Pitzer College student leaders’ defense of racially discriminatory housing practices, both the incoming President of Pitzer College, Melvin Oliver, and the Vice President for Student Affairs, Brian Carlisle, issued statements to the entire student body, faculty, and staff.

“Recently, an article in local media quoted Facebook comments made by Pitzer students regarding their preference in race for their roommates in non-Pitzer housing. Specifically, the post indicated that only people of color should inquire about the housing option,” President Oliver stated in his first-ever email to the Pitzer College community. “While Pitzer is a community of individuals passionately engaged in establishing intracultural safe spaces for marginalized groups, the Facebook post and several subsequent comments are inconsistent with our Mission and values.”

“Pitzer College’s Mission is to create engaged, socially responsible citizens,” Oliver continued. “We come together to live and work in a shared learning environment where every member is valued, respected, and entitled to dignity and honor. Our shared goal is to create a balanced approach to engaging complex intercultural issues, not to isolate individuals on the basis of any protected status.”

Shortly after incoming President Oliver sent out his email condemning students who refuse to live with certain people based on the color of their skin, Vice President Carlisle reached out to the Pitzer College community with a different message. “Our dedicated resident assistants have been targeted by Twitter trolls who publicly defame them and attack their contributions to our community,” Carlisle wrote. “Now, more than ever, is the time to come together as a community to celebrate and support our amazing resident assistants and student affairs staff. Please join me in thanking them for their work in furthering our mission and for keeping our campus a safe place to work, live, and study.”

Students were unimpressed with the administrators’ inconsistent responses. “I think it’s important that our administration takes a firm stance on this. What we saw in those Facebook posts and comments was a disdain for a certain group of people, in this case, white people. If Pitzer wants to stay consistent with their values of racial harmony and multiculturalism, they must speak out against comments like this,” stated Nick Toro (PZ ’18). “What’s even more important than racial diversity is the diversity of thoughts and ideas. Only then can we learn to understand each other.”

Students at Claremont Colleges Refuse to Live with White People

A group of students at the Claremont Colleges are in search of a roommate for next year, but insist that the roommate not be white. Karé Ureña (PZ ’18) posted on Facebook that non-white students in need of housing arrangements should reach out to either her or two other students with whom she plans to live in an off-campus house. The post states that “POC [people of color] only” will be considered for this living opportunity. “I don’t want to live with any white folks,” Ureña added.

Dalia Zada (PZ ’18) expressed concerns to the anti-white discrimination. “‘POC only?’ Maybe I’m missing something or misunderstanding your post, but how is that not a racist thing to say?”

“This is directed to protect POC, not white people. Don’t see how this is racist at all…” responded AJ León (PZ ’18). Sara Roschdi (PZ ’17), a Pitzer Latino Student Union member, stated, “People of color are allowed to create safe POC only spaces. It is not reverse racism or discriminatory, it is self preservation.”

“We don’t want to have to tiptoe around fragile white feelings in a space where we just want to relax and be comfortable,” commented Nina Lee, a Women’s Studies major. “I could live with white people, but I would be far more comfortable living with other poc.”

“White people always mad when they don’t feel included but at the end of the day y’all are damaging asf [as f*ck] and if a POC feels they need to protect themselves from that toxic environment THEY CAN! Quick to try to jump on a POC but you won’t call your friends out when they’re being racist asf,” noted Terriyonna Smith (PZ ’18), an Africana Studies major and Resident Assistant (RA) for the 2016-2017 year. “I’m not responding to NO comments and NOPE I don’t wanna have a dialogue.” It is not clear whether or not this refusal of dialogue represents the approaches to conversation on racism with fellow students encouraged by professors of Africana Studies or the Residence Life staff at Pitzer College.

Another Resident Assistant and Black Student Union member, Jessica Saint-Fleur (PZ ’18) added to the thread of comments, “White people have cause [sic] so much mf [motherf*cking] trauma on these campuses … why in the world would I want to live with that? Bring that into my home? A place that is supposed to be safe for me?”

The Mission and Values section of Pitzer College’s website states, “Intercultural Understanding enables Pitzer students to comprehend issues and events from cultural lenses beyond their own,” and adds that “[Pitzer College] supports the thoughtful exchange of ideas to increase understanding and awareness, and to work across difference without intimidation. We have the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen. Communication, even at its most vigorous, should be respectful and without intent to harm.”

Edit: An earlier version of this story stated that AJ León was a member of the Pitzer College Latino Student Union.

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Image: Flickr