All posts by Matthew Reade

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.

What a Late-Night Uber Taught Me About American Politics

On Tuesday night, as the final tendrils of orange and red light faded from the evening skies in Washington D.C., I packed my bags and left my apartment for Dulles International Airport, ready to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family in California. Loaded up with a backpack and a small duffel slung over my shoulder, I ducked into my waiting Uber, exchanging the usual pleasantries with the driver.

Mo was quiet. His smooth olive skin and earnest eyes belied his years. He drove cautiously, but with the classic impatience of a Washington D.C. resident, nudging the nose of his van into crosswalks to exploit openings in the stream of pedestrians. We chatted idly for a few minutes about my time in Washington, the weather, and the gridlocked rush-hour traffic.

But then our talk turned to the election.

“America is the land of opportunity,” he told me. “This is the only place where you can go and do anything.”

In addition to driving for Uber, Mo arranges shipments of produce to the Washington D.C. area from Florida and other major agricultural states. He makes a good living this way, and he is proud of it. “I make good money,” he said several times, his face beaming.

Mo is an immigrant. He came to the United States on a green card in the late nineties and has lived and worked in Washington ever since. He has been able to renew his green card in the past, but he fears that under the new administration, he might lose his residency and be forced to return to his country.

“I don’t know if what he says is just rhetoric,” he explained, referring to president-elect Trump. “What he says about immigrants in this country illegally, who are committing crimes; I agree. But a lot of these immigrants are good people, hard-working people. They contribute to this country.”

As we came to a halt at another red light, Mo shifted his gaze to the Washington Monument, rising up out of the ground only a few hundred yards away. “I have met many undocumented people in my job,” he said. “All of them are good people, making an honest living. Their families are here. Their children go to school here. They are afraid that they will be taken away and sent out of this country.”

Even though President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than all of his predecessors, Mo pointed out, the rhetoric of the fierce 2016 campaign has terrified his undocumented colleagues. Last November, Donald Trump promised to build a “deportation force” to send all illegal immigrants, regardless of whether they had committed crimes in the U.S., back to their countries of origin. He has since softened his position.

“I’ve been here for several past elections,” he said. “I was here for Bush and for Obama, both times.”

He looked directly at me in the rearview mirror.

“But this fear? I’ve never seen it before.”

***

I have had trouble grasping the true extent of the emotions that have roiled this nation over the course of the election season. Before Election Day, I sensed the anger of conservatives with the status quo, but I never understood its depth until Donald Trump swept the Rust Belt on November 8th to become our president.

Conservatives have long chafed at the derision and condescension of the left, but recent years have deepened their frustration. To President Obama and other progressive icons, Republican political opponents do not simply disagree about how to make America a better place; instead, they occupy “the wrong side of history,” as the president himself has often said. They are bigots, misogynists, and racists, and their economic grievances and political anxieties are without merit. And someday, only a few decades further along the arc of history, their evil, backwards political inclinations will perish from the earth, and the good—progressivism—will triumph at last.

Coastal liberals, ensconced in their ivory towers in Washington and the university, continue to claim that they know best. They are the self-appointed defenders of truth and justice, visionaries bent on fixing our deeply flawed and broken nation. If only the hapless hicks supporting the Republican Party would wise up, absorb the teachings of the enlightened class, and understand how good they have it, the nation might make progress in helping those facing real hardship. As one bitter columnist at Jezebel wrote in the days following the election, the “grievances” of Donald Trump’s working-class supporters “ranged anywhere from distrusting Hillary Clinton as much as they did Obama to believing in racial stereotypes and feeling put-upon by ‘PC’ culture.”

But to the middle-aged factory worker in the Midwest who has lost his job and does not know where to turn to provide for his family, these criticisms are nothing short of insulting. He voted for Barack Obama, believing in the promise and hope of the young then-senator’s presidential campaign. But since then, things seem to have only gotten worse.

President Obama has overseen the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression, with most of this rebound benefitting America’s urban hubs. Meanwhile, the globalized economy grinds on, sweeping middle-class industrial jobs out of America’s heartland and into the cheap labor markets of China, Mexico, and southeast Asia. In the factories that have survived, automated technologies have replaced bustling crews of laborers with robots and an occasional human overseer. To the victims of these powerful waves of change, blue-collar America is dying—and Barack Obama’s hope and youthful idealism did nothing to stop it.

This election manifested the desperation of middle America. Few Americans actually liked Donald Trump. Nearly seven-in-ten voters viewed Donald Trump unfavorably. They found his behavior to be beyond the pale. His proposal to ban all Muslims was inexcusable, and his vow to build a wall was laughable. Yet nearly half voted for him anyway—because in the end, Donald Trump meant change, and change was what they needed. It’s as simple as that.

***

But with the turmoil of change comes uncertainty and, for immigrants like Mo, the frightening prospect that they no longer can pursue their dreams in the land of the free. Which Donald Trump should they believe: the one who promised to deport every illegal immigrant and to stop issuing green cards for foreign workers, or the one who will only deport “criminal” aliens and will “reform” legal immigration?

Mo is worried that it might be the former.

“When I was seventeen, eighteen, as a young guy, I came to this country, so you know that adjusting—that will be really hard for job adjustment in my old country,” he explained. “I am right now sixteen, seventeen years in this country. What will I do if I go back?”

“When I drive for Uber, I pay my insurance, I pay my road taxes, I pay my rent,” Mo continued, an edge creeping into his soft-spoken voice. “I contribute to America. Someday, I might buy a house. But if I’m not here, how can I do that? How can I contribute to this great country?”

He glanced at me in the mirror. “The undocumented immigrants, they contribute too,” he added. “Without them, this country’s agriculture would be nothing. The fields would be empty—and no one would take those jobs.”

In the end, as traffic finally began to pick up, Mo expressed a hint of optimism. “I am lucky,” he mused as he steered the car onto the freeway. “I have a wife here who is a U.S. citizen, so I will probably be okay.”

“But I really don’t know.”

Trouble for Trump

With 15 days to go, Hillary Clinton has cemented her position as the overwhelming favorite to win the election on November 8th.

Nationally, Mrs. Clinton has amassed a 6-point lead, according to this morning’s RealClearPolitics average. In live voter surveys, which have been more accurate in past elections than online polls, the Democratic nominee leads Donald J. Trump by an average of about 10 points. Online and IVR1 polls show a tighter race, with Mrs. Clinton maintaining a 3-point advantage among those surveys.

After the first presidential debate, Donald Trump lost traction in the most competitive states and has failed to recover. He now is underperforming 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in nearly every battleground state, and his path through the Rust Belt—long thought to be his best shot at victory—has closed.

Mr. Trump is doing well in Ohio and Iowa, states where he holds a decisive demographic advantage. But in all-important Florida, where President Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney by only 0.9 percent in 2012, Mr. Trump lags by four points. He also is behind in North Carolina, where Republicans won in 2012.

2016 Polls vs. 2012 Final
State 2012 Final Vote 2016 RCP Average % Change from 2012
Florida +0.9 Obama +3.8 Clinton +2.9 D
North Carolina +2.0 Romney +2.5 Clinton +4.5 D
Nevada +6.7 Obama +4.2 Clinton +2.5 R
Colorado +5.4 Obama +7.2 Clinton +1.8 D
Virginia +3.9 Obama +8.0 Clinton +4.1 D
Arizona +9.1 Romney +1.3 Clinton +10.4 D
Pennsylvania +5.4 Obama +6.2 Clinton +0.8 D
Michigan +9.5 Obama +10.0 Clinton +0.5 D
Ohio +3.0 Obama +0.6 Trump +3.6 R
Iowa +5.8 Obama +3.7 Trump +9.5 R
New Hampshire +5.6 Obama +8.0 Clinton +2.4 D
Wisconsin +6.9 Obama +7.0 Clinton +0.1 D

There are other warning signs for Mr. Trump. Though his path to the White House is through the Rust Belt, he is losing badly there. He has not led or tied a single poll taken in Wisconsin since mid-September, and in Michigan, he is down by about nine points. Even in these states, favorable demographics have not helped the G.O.P.’s chances, with Mrs. Clinton showing gains across the northeast relative to President Obama’s finish there in 2012.

Mr. Trump also is fending off challenges in unlikely places. In Arizona, a state which Mitt Romney won by nine points, he and Mrs. Clinton are effectively tied. But even if Mr. Trump manages to avert disaster there, he might lose deep-red Utah to anti-Trump hometown hero Evan McMullin, who rocketed to a four-point lead in a four-way poll conducted last week. FiveThirtyEight’s now-cast, a statistical model that predicts who would win if the election were held today, gives Mr. McMullin a shocking one-in-four shot of taking Utah—and becoming the first third-party candidate to win an electoral vote since 1968.

No candidate has ever emerged from such a weak polling position in so little time. With no more debates on the calendar, Mr. Trump is out of opportunities to change the media narrative to his advantage, and few undecided voters remain to be convinced by either candidate. Barring a polling error of unprecedented proportions, Hillary Clinton will become our nation’s next president.

In this election cycle, however, stranger things have happened. It is possible that pollsters have underestimated the turnout Mr. Trump will generate among his base of blue-collar whites, thereby unintentionally skewing the results of their surveys in Mrs. Clinton’s favor. Voters also dislike both candidates more than they have any other presidential contenders in the history of modern polling, making it hard to predict exactly which groups of voters will turn out on November 8th and which will stay home out of frustration. Others, including the Trump campaign itself, have cited “shy Trump voters”—individuals who are unwilling to disclose to pollsters that they support his candidacy when in fact they do—as a possible justification for the Republican nominee’s poor polling position.

But even accounting for these possibilities, Mr. Trump is still the underdog in this race, and a victory—if possible at all—would be extremely narrow. The electoral map is unfriendly, the polls are even worse, and the Trump campaign lacks a substantial get-out-the-vote effort in nearly every contestable state.

Donald Trump is in deep trouble.


Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore (flickr)


Footnotes
  1. Interactive Voice Response polls, otherwise known as robocalls.