All posts by Matthew Reade

After Breaking Rules During Protest, Students Demand Exoneration

In an open letter to top officials and the Board of Trustees at Claremont McKenna College, a group of students identified as the “CMCers of Color” criticizes the college’s effort to punish students who violated college policy while protesting conservative scholar Heather Mac Donald as the “further criminalization of already marginalized students” and calls upon the college to end its “investigation.”

The letter comes as Hiram Chodosh, the president of CMC, fulfills his vow to punish students who defied college regulations in the course of the protests.

“Blocking access to buildings violates College policy,” he wrote in an April 7 email, one day after protesters shut down Heather Mac Donald’s talk by blockading the entrances to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, where the Manhattan Institute scholar was scheduled to appear. “CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable. We will also give a full report to the other Claremont Colleges, who have responsibility for their own students.”

Multiple sources report that the college analyzed photo and video evidence supplied by onlookers and student journalists to identify the individuals who violated campus rules at the protest and target them for sanctions.

The CMCers of Color, however, complain that these efforts to uphold college policy are “distressing” and amount to “acts of violence” by the administration against students of color, whom they allege are the principal targets of the investigation:

“CMC has threatened to prevent students from walking at graduation and holds the power to withhold transcripts, barring students entrance into a competitive job market. CMC has also threatened suspension and expulsion. For low-income and first generation students, graduation is a culminatory moment that should not be revoked. On campuses where students of color already feel unsafe, it is distressing that these institutions resort to punitive measures to resolve issues resulting from their own negligence. These are acts of violence, and if advanced, would severely harm the survival of these students, particularly those of whom are graduating this coming week.”

The CMCers of Color also criticize the college for inviting speakers like Mac Donald, speakers who, according to the group, endanger students of color:

“While inflammatory speakers are framed as generating open dialogue on campus, they merely create dangerous campus environments for students of color. The institution’s financial backing of speakers who examine Black livelihood, suggesting its debatability, shows that fraudulent calls for open dialogue take precedence over students of color. CMC is effectively complicit in threats to the safety of students of color by legitimating the very politics that denies their humanity.”

The letter further claims that “[t]here has been no talk of investigation for violent counter protesters — only talk of further criminalization of already marginalized students.” But Chodosh’s original statement announcing the investigation stated that policy violators would be punished, and violence is against the student code.

Moreover, several eyewitnesses consulted by the Independent recall seeing no violent counter protest at the event, and multiple videos taken at the scene corroborate this account. The witnesses also confirm that the protesters engaged in various forms of physical intimidation, including “shoving, blocking,” and “forming human walls” to ensure that no one could enter the Athenaeum to view Mac Donald’s talk. Additionally, student journalists and onlookers, including but not limited to writers for the Independent, reported receiving threats of violence from students protesting Mac Donald. CMC’s student code prohibits “actions which cause, or could cause, personal injury or death,” actions which include “threatening to assault” or “intimidating another person.”

Concluding their letter, the CMCers of Color call for an end to CMC’s investigation. “We stand in solidarity with the actions taken against Mac Donald,” they write, “and we demand that the investigation and criminalization of CMC students stop immediately.”

The signatories to the letter of the CMCers of Color are private; as such, it is unclear how many have signed it.

Requests for comment from President Chodosh and other CMC officials were unanswered at the time of publication.

College Backs Prof. Advertising Race-Based Admission to Course

In an official statement, Pomona College has backed a geology professor who, in a flier advertising her permission-only course on earthquakes and hydrology, explained her plan to exercise preference for “students of color” and other marginalized individuals seeking to enroll in the course.

The statement of support comes after an alumnus of the Claremont Colleges filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, accusing Linda Reinen, the geology professor, of discrimination on the basis of race, class, and citizenship.

“Professor Reinen is asking students who wish to enroll in a college class to describe their racial and ethnic background, their socioeconomic background, their national origin and citizenship status (by asking for “international” students to identify as such), and potentially their age (with the information requested on where students are “in their college career),” the complaint stated. “College students should never be asked, required, or expected to reveal such information as their racial and ethnic identity to a professor so [that] she may decide whether or not to allow them to enroll in her class.” (emphasis original)

The Independent has also confirmed at least one report of a student who attempted to enroll in Reinen’s course only to be urged by the professor to submit a new enrollment request, this time including information about the student’s race, income, citizenship, and year in school.

“Please take a look at the flyer I have attached and either modify your existing PERM [permission-to-enroll request] (if possible) or send a new PERM request with your response to the flyer,” Reinen said in an email to the student, going on to quote the portion of her flyer indicating her preference for marginalized students. “In resolving PERMs I will strive to identify students for whom the small-section setting has the potential to be of particular benefit. I am especially interested in seeing PERM requests from students of color, first generation or low-income students, international, and students early in their college career (first two years).” (emphasis original)

But in an official statement to the Independent, Pomona College affirmed the flier as a “positive outreach” and stated that the professor’s approach is both lawful and ethical:

“Pomona College encourages all students to take courses across our broad curriculum as part of a full and vital liberal arts education. We strive to foster classroom environments where students from different backgrounds and experiences can learn and contribute in an atmosphere of open inquiry and intellectual engagement. The flier is a positive outreach designed to encourage a wide range of students to consider the class. The College fully supports this objective. This approach is fully within the law and meets strict ethical standards.”

According to recent policy guidance from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, educational institutions are obligated to ensure that “students have equal access to educational resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.”

Rebuffed After Seeking Professor’s Firing, Students Try Boycott, New Demands

After Pomona College’s sociology department rejected students’ demands for the rescission of a hiring offer to Alice Goffman on account of her allegedly “racist” and “unethical” research, students now have commanded the department to preclude Goffman from “teaching required sociology courses” and to fund a speaker series criticizing her work. The students have also announced a boycott of sociology courses at the college.

The students reiterated their earlier demands for control over hiring decisions and for a formal letter from the department, which now must contain a list of “concrete steps the Department will take moving forward to ensure such undemocratic, covert hiring processes are never repeated.”

According to the latest set of demands, Goffman should be “prevented from teaching required sociology courses, including … Introduction to Sociology,” though the students stipulate that “[s]he can be allowed … to teach non-required sociology electives.” The students also request that Pomona College sociology students be granted the ability to take their required sociology courses at other colleges—or simply not take them at all, enrolling in alternative courses “in different academic departments (Anthropology, ethnic studies, etc.)” to fulfill the requirements of the sociology department.

In their first set of demands, students lambasted the department for hiring Goffman, a White woman, over two Black candidates. To mitigate the possibility of this oversight occurring in the future, they now are seeking “the creation of an additional tenure line that prioritizes representation from a diverse pool of applicants.” The students also reiterate their demand for “the creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee” to “be at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions in the Sociology Department. The current lack of transparency and student input on hiring decisions is not an issue unique to the Sociology Department, but is a recurring pattern throughout the College.”

“An adequately-funded speaker and workshop series to occur monthly for the duration of Alice Goffman’s professorship” is the next demand from the students. Though the series would only feature Goffman’s critics, the students explain that “this series will ensure an open democratic debate about the merits of Goffman’s work by bringing her most serious critics to the Claremont Colleges to speak. We hope to feature diverse academics who exemplify ethical, reciprocal, mutually beneficial, and community-grounded research.”

The students want the department to “hire a staff member to coordinate this series in collaboration with Sociology students.” “If this is not possible,” they helpfully add, “we are open to having Sociology students/student organizers receive financial compensation to coordinate the series.”

The final demand is for an explanation of Goffman’s hiring from the department’s hiring committee. This letter must detail “further rationale and transparency that led to Goffman’s hiring decision,” including “a discussion of Goffman’s credentials in relation to the posted job description.” The students further demand that the department explain “the lack of representative student involvement in the hiring process” and detail the “concrete steps [it] will take moving forward to ensure such undemocratic, covert hiring processes are never repeated.”

On Friday, in the hopes of putting pressure on the department, the students behind the demands began sharing a Facebook post urging other students at the colleges, “as part of being in solidarity,” to “unregister from Pomona College Sociology courses for the Fall 2017 semester.”

The Department of Sociology has not yet responded to the Independent’s request for comment. This story will be updated upon receipt of a response.

Will Gu contributed reporting.

Pomona Professor to Admit Students to Geology Class On Basis of Race

In a flyer introducing her course on “Southern California Earthquakes and Water,” a geology professor at Pomona College sells her class as an intriguing hands-on look at the unique “tectonic and hydrologic challenges” faced in the Golden State. She then explains how she will exercise racial preference in choosing which students may enroll in the course.

Unlike in most Pomona classes, seats in the earthquakes course are offered on a permission-only basis, which means that students must submit a written request—colloquially called a “PERM”—to the professor seeking “permission to enroll.” The professor sees all of these requests and may choose among them to fill his or her course.

Typically, professors treat PERMs as a waitlist, selecting students in the order in which they submitted their PERM requests. To the extent that preferential treatment is exercised, it is typically used to ensure that students majoring in a particular field of study are able to enroll in courses for their major ahead of others, who may simply be taking them to fulfill general education requirements.

Linda Reinen, who will teach the earthquakes course this fall, plans to use her approval authority to prefer students from marginalized backgrounds, such as non-Whites and low-income students, who she believes will derive “particular benefit” from a smaller and less competitive course.

“I encourage students who PERM this course to indicate how their background, experience, and/or interests could contribute to diversifying perspectives in the course,” she writes. “In resolving PERMs I will strive to identify students for whom the small-section setting has the potential to be of particular benefit. I am especially interested in seeing PERM requests from students of color, first generation or low-income students, international, and students early in their college career (first two years); such students are especially encouraged to apply.” (emphasis original)

Reinen does not explain how preferential approval on the basis of race, income, national origin, or age might provide a tangible benefit in a course on geological science or why the students she prefers stand to benefit more from a small-section class than other students.

Professor Reinen did not respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.

Students Who Said Truth Is ‘A Myth’ Demand Compensation

The authors of the open letter that called objective truth a “myth and white supremacy” and sought disciplinary action against conservative journalists on campus are now demanding compensation for their “labor” from “non-Black allies.”

According to a screenshot sent to the Claremont Independent, one of the authors took to a Facebook group to reiterate his critiques of the email from Pomona College President David Oxtoby that originally prompted the letter and to seek financial support from “non-Black” students and allies beyond the Claremont Colleges.

In that original email, Oxtoby defended the value of free speech on campus and emphasized Pomona’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled talk by Heather Mac Donald, a noted scholar and critic of Black Lives Matter, at the adjacent campus of Claremont McKenna College.

In his Facebook post, the author blasted Oxtoby’s statement and assailed the “normalization of antiblackness at the Claremont Colleges, particularly Pomona.”

“The response from the president of the College condones hate speech towards Black bodies as a form of free speech, while simultaneously berating those students of marginalized identities who protest for their right to safely exist that [sic] these institutions,” the author wrote. “This college would rather protect the right to verbally degrade Black people than to protect Black lives, especially those of the students at their campus; hinting at the inevitable vulgarity of whiteness and white supremacy.”

“We ask that other Black students and non-black allies from the [Claremont Colleges’] community and beyond to support us with this endeavor to hold our administration accountable,” he continued.

The author went on to admonish his “non-black allies” to pay him and the other two individuals responsible for the original open letter for their “labor.”

“Also ‘allies’ and other folks, if you receive social capital from sharing this letter, you should provide the organizers of this movement with tangible capital and compensate us for our labor,” he urged, appending the usernames for the Venmo accounts of himself and the other authors of the open letter to the end of his post.

Venmo is a payment service app that is used to send money directly to friends and make purchases.

Scripps Alumnae Demand That College Submits to Student Demands

Alumnae of Scripps College are circulating a petition demanding that the college submit to the demands of resident advisors on campus, who announced a strike last week to force the firing of the current Dean of Students and radical changes to campus policies with respect to financial aid, mental health, and residential life.

“We, on behalf of graduates/alumnae(i) of Scripps College, are shocked and outraged at recent events that have unfolded at Scripps,” the petition begins. “We firmly stand in solidarity with the current Scripps RAs’ strike in response to the administration’s lack of response to these events as well as to several of Scripps’ chronic and long-standing policies and practices.”

Last week, Lara Tiedens, the president of Scripps College, refused to capitulate to student demands and took immediate action to replace the resident advisors (RAs), who take the lead in ensuring student safety within the residence halls and handling unexpected emergencies, with regular security patrols.

“This afternoon, a group of Resident Advisors (RAs) informed me of their intent to go on strike effective immediately, and to abstain from all duties including crisis and emergency response, residential life programming, and other assigned duties,” Tiedens wrote in an April 14 email to current Scripps students and parents. “[M]aintaining a supportive, safe, and high-quality living and learning environment for all students is our highest priority, and the College’s immediate focus is on ensuring we have appropriate coverage for the residence halls. To that end, the Dean of Students has developed a plan to ensure that RAs’ critical duties related to safety and student welfare are covered for the duration of the strike.”

Tiedens’ refusal to capitulate to the RAs’ demands does not sit well with the authors of the alumnae petition.

“We are deeply concerned about your callous response to the RA strike, which did not address any of the causes of students’ exhaustion and exploitation, but instead defended an administrator who multiple students have testified is abusive and criticized the strike when many other methods of engaging with administration have been tried by students, but did not prove effective,” they write. “This is a prime example of how Scripps appears to not be genuinely listening or acknowledging the community’s serious and deep state of grief.”

The alumnae petition also complains that the college’s decision to hire additional staff to stand in for the striking RAs could evoke fears of “police brutality” among the student body.

“Scripps’ only real action in response to the strike has been to hire an outside security firm to police the campus, which only serves to instill fear in students, especially students of color who have personally been or have witnessed their family and friends of color being targets of police brutality and criminalization,” it explains.

Attached to the alumnae letter is a “timeline” that demonstrates the “long history of student activism on campus.” The listed events include a “United Against Hate protest across the [Claremont] campuses following the election of another fascist white supremacist,” presumably referring to current U.S. president Donald J. Trump, as well as the student-led protests that shut down a scheduled event with Heather Mac Donald, an expert on urban crime and policing, at Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum. The timeline helpfully notes that Mac Donald “believes the Black Lives Matter narrative is not only false but dangerous.”

Over 200 alumnae have signed the petition, which closes by admonishing the college once more to capitulate to student demands:

“As past students of Scripps College, we demand that there be systemic change at Scripps, pursuant to the thoughtful, well-articulated demands of the current RAs. We stand in strong support of their cause, and would vehemently urge the Scripps administration to listen carefully to the RAs’ voices, and to make a genuine, concerted, and good faith effort to comply with their demands.”

Students Demand Administrators ‘Take Action’ Against Conservative Journalists

In an open letter to outgoing Pomona College President David Oxtoby, a group of students from the Claremont Colleges assail the president for affirming Pomona’s commitment to free speech and demand that all five colleges “take action” against the conservative journalists on the staff of the Claremont Independent.

The letter, written by three self-identified Black students at Pomona College, is a response to an April 7 email from President Oxtoby in which he reiterated the college’s commitment to “the exercise of free speech and academic freedom” in the aftermath of protests that shut down a scheduled appearance by an invited speaker, scholar and Black Lives Matter critic Heather Mac Donald, on April 6.

“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses,” Oxtoby wrote. “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society.”

In their open letter, the students sharply disagree.

“Free speech, a right many freedom movements have fought for, has recently become a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions. It has not just empowered students from marginalized backgrounds to voice their qualms and criticize aspects of the institution, but it has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry,” they write.

“Thus, if ‘our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth,’” the students continue, citing Oxtoby’s letter, “how does free speech uphold that value?”

The students also characterize truth as a “myth” and a white supremacist concept.

“Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples,” they explain. “The idea that there is a single truth–‘the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”

In reference to the protests of Mac Donald, the open letter explains that engaging with Mac Donald’s speech would have amounted to a debate not “on mere difference of opinion, but [on] the right of Black people to exist.”

“Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, a classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live,” the letter claims. “Why are you [President Oxtoby], and other persons in positions of power at these institutions, protecting a fascist and her hate speech and not students that are directly affected by her presence?”

The open letter concludes by insisting that Oxtoby apologize for his April 7 email and issue a new message that the college “does not tolerate hate speech and speech that projects violence onto the bodies of its marginalized students and oppressed peoples.”

The students also demand that the Claremont Colleges “take action” against the staff of the Claremont Independent for their “continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.” Taking a step further, they call for “disciplinary action” against conservative journalists from the Claremont Colleges.

“We also demand that Pomona College and the Claremont University Consortium entities take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” they write. “Provided that the Claremont Independent releases the identity of students involved with this letter and such students begin to receive threats and hate mail, we demand that this institution and its constituents take legal action against members of the Claremont Independent involved with the editing and publication process as well as disciplinary action, such as expulsion on the grounds of endangering the wellbeing of others.”

The letter’s signatories, of whom there are more than 20 at the time of publication, request a response by the afternoon of April 18.

The authors of the letter did not immediately respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.

Update: A link to President Oxtoby’s original email has been added to this article.

Citing “Exploitation,” Scripps RAs Refuse to Work, Issue Demands

On Thursday, Scripps College students employed as resident advisors (RAs) on campus announced that they will refuse to work in protest of their “exploitation” as “low income students of color” until their demands for extensive changes to college policies and personnel are met.

Though acknowledging that failing to perform their supervisory duties would enable students to “engage[] in unsafe behavior” and deprive students of a valuable mental health resource, the resident advisors insisted in an open letter to Scripps President Lara Tiedens that the college’s “exploitation” of their labor in the aftermath of the tragic death of a fellow Scripps student justified the drastic measures.

“We are now expected to continue to function in our roles while also grieving and trying to fulfill academic and other responsibilities,” the letter explained. “Furthermore, most of us are low income students of color, which further exacerbates the exploitation we are experiencing.”

The lengthy letter demands the “immediate resignation” of the current Dean of Students for failing to “show adequate leadership or support,” as well as significant changes to the college’s mental health, residential life, and financial aid policies.

Central are the changes the RAs are seeking to their own role on campus. They charge that their central duties, such as performing walkthroughs and enforcing college policies on lockouts and room residency, do “not actually model restorative justice” and hurt “marginalized students more than students with money and privilege.”

“For example, students are given two free lockouts per year, and after these free lockouts a student is fined $25 per lockout,” they explain, referring to the college’s policy on students who lock themselves out of their own rooms. “RAs are expected to record these lockouts so if a student surpasses their number of free lockouts, they are charged; this is a classist practice that serves no concrete purpose.”

The RAs also criticize the college’s requirement that students exit residence halls at the conclusion of each semester or face a daily fine. “Charging residents who stay past closing time for breaks is yet another classist practice that we are asked to implement,” they complain. “This [policy] does not allow any consideration of individual personal circumstances that leave students with nowhere to go. These, and all other fines used to disproportionately punish students must be removed.”

Turning to mental health on campus, the RAs’ letter demands that Scripps “increase the subsidy for off-campus therapy,” saying that a “financial burden should not be put on any student who seeks to improve their mental health.”

On financial aid, the RAs insist that the college “allocate[] emergency funding to accommodate unexpected changes in student finances.” They also propose a new financial aid formula that would permit students to obtain outside scholarships without reducing need-based aid granted by the college.

The labor “strike” is total. The RAs say that they “will not perform any of the labor expected of us” — including providing emotional support to students, responding to emergencies in the residence halls, and assisting students who are locked out of their rooms — unless the school agrees to meet their demands by April 20th.

The resident advisor position is one of the best-paying jobs available to students on campus at Scripps. Because RAs are important to ensuring student safety and protecting college property, Scripps College covers the full cost of room and board for all RAs — nearly $16,000 per year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to airfare compensation as a benefit available to all Scripps RAs. In fact, the college chose to offer airfare compensation to some RAs on account of special personal circumstances.